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I have been raised since the early stages of my childhood to be a generous and morally sound individual. My parents persistently ingrained in me basic and fundamental Christian virtues: charity, humility, and selflessness. This value-oriented focus during my upbringing eventually crystallized into who I became as a young teenager. I was well-mannered, respectable, and strived to be as selfless as possible. But doesn’t virtually everyone strive to be a good person? My intentions were good, but my contributions were still limited. Looking back, it felt as if I were on cruise control, in desperate need of a stimulus of some sort to jolt me into action. Sure enough, that catalyst surfaced on a frigid fall night during my sophomore year of high school.
Zack McLeod was a junior and a teammate of mine on the varsity football team. Though athletics were a strong suit of his, they did not rate highly on his priority list. His true passion rested with his faith and his unrelenting love for people. Zack’s glowing face was constantly painted with an unmistakable smile. His wrists were always covered with bracelets that he had crafted with AIDS victims in Africa upon his annual visits there. He would constantly remind classmates and teammates that he loved them — not ordinary words for a 17-year-old. Zack was no ordinary 17-year-old, though. His mere presence was enough to brighten up any classroom, lunch table, or locker room.
But on the fateful night of October 17, 2008, Zack collapsed on the football field. The field that served as a gridiron battleground quickly became the battleground where Zack lay unconscious and fighting for his life. He was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he immediately underwent emergency brain surgery to alleviate the pressure. He had suffered an aneurysm, and it was later announced by the doctors that Zack had had a 10% chance of survival on the field that night.
When Zack finally awoke from his coma and was permitted visitors, I wasted no time in going to see him. The second that I entered the room and our eyes met, something snapped in me. The sensation was indescribable and overwhelming. It wasn’t set off by the disturbing fact that he was a mere shadow of his former self, having lost 80 pounds in addition to the power of speech and the use of his body from the neck down. On the contrary, it was actually a feeling of joy and comfort sparked by the sight of Zack’s reassuring and unmistakable smile.
Over the course of the year, I made it a point to visit Zack as much as possible. The more that I went, the more I developed a genuine desire to help him. I was no longer satisfied with being morally correct. I wanted to engage in some form of charitable outreach. I wanted to be like Zack. Since then, I have volunteered at multiple aid organizations, including the Challenger League, the Jimmy Fund, and the Buddy Walk. I formed a baseball team comprised of 11- and 12-year-olds to enter and compete in the Jimmy Fund Baseball League, which donates all earnings to the Jimmy Fund Association. Although that was a rewarding experience in its own right, the Jimmy Fund did not allow me to engage firsthand with the less fortunate. I wanted to become involved on a more personal level. I next volunteered to coach in the Challenger Division, a league that enables children with mental and physical disabilities to enjoy the game of baseball. I also helped to set up for the Buddy Walk, a festival designed to allow kids with Down syndrome to engage in playful activities throughout the day. My most rewarding charitable experience to date, however, came when I petitioned to let Dan Rej, a mentally disabled eighth-grader with an unparalleled passion for basketball, join the middle school recreational league. After completing all of those experiences, I can now confidently say that Zack has truly inspired me to become a better person by sparking my newfound enthusiasm for charity. His injury served as the catalyst in my transformation from a good person into a person who does good.
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