Devon Still describes his daughter as ”your typical Quintin Demps Jersey , soon-to-be 8-year-old.” Nothing’s typical about Leah Still , who faced long odds against reaching that eighth birthday. Or about her father, a former NFL defensive lineman who retired after last season and has immersed himself in a second career – helping other families deal with childhood cancer.
”We call it recycling our pain,” Still said.
Still retired last December after another foot injury sidetracked his career, deciding that at 28 years old, it was time to move on to something else. It was a difficult moment – he’d played football since age 13 and spent three years with the Cincinnati Bengals and one with the Houston Texans.
”The most successful people know when it’s time to call audibles,” he said.
Even when that means giving up a promising career that began when he was a second-round pick out of Penn State.
”Since I got to the NFL in 2012, I feel it’s been a roller coaster,” Still said in a phone interview from Houston, where he now lives. ”I tell people all the time that my life has been like climbing a mountain. When I got to the top of the mountain, the view wasn’t what I thought. Making it in the NFL wasn’t what I thought. I had so many injuries.”
The biggest surprise came in June 2014, when Leah – then 4 – was diagnosed with stage four of a rare cancer that affects primarily infants and young children. She was given a 50/50 chance to survive.
Still shared her story through videos and interviews. Sports fans as well as people who couldn’t name an NFL team became engrossed in her struggle. Surgeons removed a tumor from her abdomen. She got chemotherapy, radiation and experimental treatments. There were setbacks and very dark days when the treatments seemed to be inadequate.
More than three years later Cody Whitehair Jersey , the cancer is in remission and Leah is ”just trying to be a kid again,” as her father describes it. In addition to attending school, she’s tried gymnastics and cheerleading. She’s signed up for acting classes.
And Still is trying to recycle those difficult years into helping other parents going through the same experience.
He formed the Still Strong Foundation in 2015, helping families dealing with childhood cancer to cover non-medical bills so they can devote more time and resources to fighting the disease. He works with other foundations such as the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation trying to find new treatments.
He’s also gone back to school as part of his second career.
Still got a degree in criminal law at Penn State with the idea of helping juvenile delinquents when his football career ended. He’s working on a master’s degree in leadership at the University of Houston that will help him navigate corporate culture as he advocates for families.
At times when he’s sharing his story with families, those memories of Leah’s ordeal return fresh. He’s gotten to know children who don’t survive the disease.
”That’s tougher,” he said. ”I feel sometimes we suffer from survivors’ remorse.”
Leah has a photogenic smile that brightens the room – people saw it in Still’s tweets during her treatments – and reminds Still of his priorities.
”Honestly, to this day I just sit there and stare at Leah,” he said. ”I meet so many kids that pass away from this. I may have lost something I wanted so bad – being in the NFL – but I still have my daughter and that’s so much more important.”
During his daughter’s ordeal in 2014, Still got home from a Bengals’ practice and saw a local television story about Lauren Hill, the Mount St. Joseph freshman who played basketball with an inoperable brain tumor. He decided to visit Lauren and brought her a Bengals jersey as a gift.
”They sat and talked forever,” said Lauren’s mom, Lisa. ”It was almost like a bond, like they’d known each other longer than just meeting. I distinctively remember her saying she felt like she knew him forever. Their conversation just flowed.”
After Hill scored two baskets in her first game Cameron Artis-Payne Jersey , she visited Still at Paul Brown Stadium and gave him one of her game jerseys . Soon after, Leah met Lauren at a Bengals game. The families formed a bond as they crossed paths at various events.
”Lauren’s story came out and, in kind of a weird way, you feel alone because you’re being barraged with a lot of media coverage,” said Lisa Hill, who works with The Cure Starts Now Foundation . ”As a parent, it’s nice to have that camaraderie and know you’re not alone.”
It was the same for Still, who was taken aback when Lauren gave him the game jersey.
”I knew they understood what I was going through,” Still said. ”Talking to Lauren and her parents put life in perspective.”
A perspective that’s carrying him into his second career.
Last spring, after another crushing postseason loss, Capitals coach Barry Trotz flew to Russia to meet with his best player.
Trotz spoke with Alex Ovechkin about his game and how it might be fine-tuned to prolong his career. They discussed the coming season and setting the tone in training camp for a team getting younger and undergoing a roster overhaul.
There were bumps in the road, but the end result has seen a reinvigorated Ovechkin playing an instrumental role in getting Washington within reach of its first Stanley Cup.
”You don’t want to be a one-trick pony in this league,” Trotz said. ”The league keeps changing on you.”
Ovechkin Ronnie Harrison Jersey , whose Capitals faced the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the final Monday night, scored 49 times this season after just 33 goals in 2016-17.
”The one thing that Alex does better than anybody, maybe in the history of the game, is score goals,” Trotz said. ”He has fantastic release. He plays a physical game for a pure-skill guy. There’s so many things that he’s done for the game. But we talked about finding other ways to be effective.”
The 32-year-old Ovechkin has done just that in pretty much every facet of his game.
”I try to do my best in the regular year, in the playoffs,” he said. ”Of course, in the playoffs, you don’t have tomorrow.”
Ovechkin has won the Richard Trophy seven times as the top goal scorer. He has 607 goals in 1,003 career regular-season games, 19th on the career list. Another 49 next season would tie him with Brendan Shanahan for 13th.
”He has that ability to see past the block, see past the goalie,” Trotz said. ”Some of the better goal scorers in this league don’t see goalies Kelvin Benjamin Jersey , they just see empty spots. Guys that aren’t goal scorers, they see the goalie.”
Trotz sees a certain ease in Ovechkin that wasn’t there when the Capitals were having great regular seasons only to fall well short in the playoffs.
”He’s very comfortable within our group,” Trotz said. ”And he’s very comfortable pushing forward and not worrying about anything else.”
That comfort was on display Sunday when he was asked about the impact his first trip to the Stanley Cup final is having in Russia.
”Vladimir Putin called me and wished me luck,” Ovechkin said before pausing. ”No it’s (a) joke.”
Until now, Ovechkin was criticized for the Capitals’ postseason failures. Washington had never moved beyond the second round during his career until this spring surge, with ousters by the Pittsburgh Penguins the last two years especially difficult.
He had 46 goals in 97 career playoff games before adding 12 more on this current playoff run. But despite an experienced roster and plenty of blame to go around, the finger-pointing was often aimed at Ovechkin.
”Being the captain and the highest-paid player, I think he got a lot of unfair criticism,” said Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has played with and against Ovechkin. ”That comes with the territory. I think he understands that, but it was really good to see him get by the second round.
”I don’t think he necessarily did that much different. I think we just played better as a team.”
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