A recent tradition by the North Central College athletic department of raising funds for the American Cancer Society will continue Saturday, Sept. 29, during the Cardinals' football game against Elmhurst College.
As is the case with many across the country, members of the Cardinal football program have been impacted by cancer in recent years. One team member's experiences of watching several members of his family fight a battle, which has claimed so many casualties, have served as his own rallying cry to press forward and pursue his dreams.
North Central senior offensive lineman Mike Ream has witnessed four members of his family combat different forms of cancer. Seeing their effort and resolve amid such suffering motivated Ream to continue pursuing his ambitions on the football field after sustaining his own serious injury.
“It all started my senior year of high school,” Ream said. “My aunt, who was a heavy smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer. She battled it for a year, but after that passed away. My grandfather on my mother's side has been dealing with a lot. He had a heart transplant, lung cancer, half his lung removed, but he's still going strong. I get a lot of motivation from him. I feel like if he can push through that, I can push through anything.
With resolve strengthened by his family's will to fight, Ream was able to focus on academics and football well enough to earn playing time as a backup in his first season with the Cardinals. The team's offense led all divisions of the NCAA in scoring at 49.0 points per game. Ream also earned Academic All-College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) honors after the season.
As a sophomore, Ream sustained an injury to his shoulder which required surgery. He faced a tough decision about his athletic future but needed little time to consider his own wishes.
“I tore my labrum and broke a bone in my shoulder,” he said. “The doctor said I'm going to have arthritis and that I have the shoulder of a 60-year-old man. He asked me, 'Do you really want to play football again?' I used what everyone in my family's going through as motivation and decided if they can battle through cancer, then I can battle through this.
“Even when the athletic trainers here at North Central ask me how my shoulder's doing and if I'm sure I want to keep doing this, every time I just tell them I feel fine.”
After sitting out the 2011 season to recover and rehabilitate, Ream returned to the 2012 lineup. He has become a mainstay on special teams for the 11th-ranked Cardinals and earned more time on the offensive line than he had before his injury.
“It's great,” Ream said of the opportunity to contribute to North Central's success once again. “I feel like I'm getting my chance to show my coaches I can play and be there for my teammates and be trusted by my teammates. I don't just want to stand on the sidelines, I want to participate.”
Ream's desire to show up for his teammates is, in part, reciprocation for their willingness to stand behind him and support him as he and his family have struggled.
“The team is like a second family to me,” he said. “After I came back, Alex Mann was one of the first to tell me he was here for me. A lot of people have done the same, telling me I can push through this. It helps me to keep pushing on.”
Ream has also found common ground with his coaches, particularly North Central head football coach John Thorne, whose wife Kathie was diagnosed in 2011 with multiple myeloma, a treatable but incurable form of blood cancer.
“The coaches have become a big part of my life outside of football, too,” Ream said. “(Coach Thorne) and I actually had a conversation last winter term. We discussed what's going on in both our lives. That helped me a lot.”
While the fight against cancer has claimed many victims, Ream refuses to add his name to the list. He has learned from his experiences to view each new day as a blessing and carries his family's courage into everything he does.
“My message to people who are going through this is just don't give up, keep going,” he said. “I live by a quote from Walter Payton: 'Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.' I'm going to do everything I can today because I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. That's what motivates me.”
North Central's Cardinal Marketing and Promotions (CMaP) group will be selling T-shirts and wristbands in Championship Plaza beginning at 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, which is also the start of Cardinal FanFest. T-shirts can be purchased for $10 and wristbands for $1 while supplies last, with all proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society. Cash and checks are the only forms of payment accepted, and checks may be made payable to North Central College. Kickoff at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium is set for 6 p.m.