By Ken Reed

Having been involved in sports for five decades, I’ve seen some great inspirational stories, both on and off the playing fields and courts.

There have been some fabulous comeback stories, in which athletes were thought to have had their careers cut short due to injuries suffered while playing only to come back and reach elite levels again.

In addition, there have been tremendous stories of athletes overcoming significant personal hardships in order to resume their playing careers.

That said, I have never come across a more inspiring story than the one about the University of Minnesota Gopher’s Casey O’Brien. O’Brien is a four-time cancer survivor, who was originally diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer at age 13. He has since had a left knee replacement, multiple lung operations and too many chemotherapy treatments to count.

A former high school quarterback, O’Brien decided to focus on becoming a placeholder so he might fulfill his dream of playing major college football. To much applause, he made his college debut in a Gophers game earlier this season.

Unfortunately, O’Brien found out last week that he would need another surgery for a spot found on his lung. The bad news came a couple days before Minnesota’s big rivalry game with Wisconsin. Nevertheless, O’Brien’s attitude remains amazingly upbeat. He actually snuck out of the hospital following his surgery to be at Minnesota’s stadium with his teammates for the Wisconsin game.

“I wanted this team and this state to see me and see I’m OK and that I’m going to be just fine,” O’Brien said during a midgame interview with ESPN.

HIs teammates love him and are providing loads of support as he faces his latest medical challenge. It’s a great example of sport at its best.

“There is zero doubt in his voice — extremely positive,” said Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan.

“I love that kid … and I know he’s going to battle through this and be OK. He knows he’s got 120 brothers in maroon and gold that are fighting for him every single day. I talked to him a lot since then. Just his attitude and his mentality is insane.”

I strongly encourage you to watch this ESPN Game Day report about O’Brien: It was taped before O’Brien’s latest setback but it will give you a feel for the type of character this young man has.

Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck is famous for his “Row the Boat,” never-give-up, mantra. Casey O’Brien is the ultimate example of that philosophy.

Before the Wisconsin game, Gopher fans unfurled a banner that read, “We row with Casey.”

I think anyone who knows this kid’s story, and his positive attitude, will be doing the same.

Keep rowing Casey. Keep rowing. We’re all rowing with you.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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