[youtube id=”jh3882zSjgU” width=”600″ height=”350″ autoplay=”no” api_params=”” class=””]
Blacksburg, VA – At events like the one he hosted in April, Joey Slye can’t help but think about his brother.
It’s been more than three years since leukemia claimed A.J.’s life, taking Slye’s older brother and best friend. So a day after completing spring football practice at Virginia Tech, the senior kicker was back at work in the Hokies’ indoor practice facility.
Instead of kicking footballs, Slye was working to “kick cancer,” hosting a fundraiser and donor registration drive.
Saturday at Lane Stadium, Slye booted a pair of field goals, including a 58-yarder, during Virginia Tech’s annual spring game. Last season, Slye went 20 for 27 on field goals, including hitting 19 of 20 tries from inside 40 yards.
The past two years, he’s been a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the top kicker in college football.
“Football gets my name out there,” Slye said.
This spring, he’s in the running to be named the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s man of the year, a 10-week nationwide fundraising competition.
“It’s off the charts how proud we are of him,” said David Slye, Joey and A.J.’s father. “He says he puts on A.J. when he does events like this. ‘What would A.J. want me to do?’ He does it for him.”
Sunday’s four-hour event, complete with a cornhole tournament, bubble soccer, a silent auction, local food trucks and, of course, swabbing stations to register potential donors, was part of that campaign.
About 380 donors registered through the “Be The Match” program, and the event raised more than $6,000.
Slye worked for more than four months to organize the event, getting untold hours of support from Tech director of student athlete development Natalie Forbes and Cara Walters, assistant athletics director for operations.
More than 100 volunteers turned out to help run the event. Slye’s coaches and many of his teammates, past and present, were on hand.
“I know how important this is to Joey and how many people’s lives are affected by this,” senior defensive end Vinny Mihota said. “I think we have an opportunity as an athlete to reach more people. We’re in the spotlight so much, and we have resources available to us to really make a difference.”
At events like this, Slye can’t help but think about the other families across America going through what his family endured during A.J.’s battle.
A.J. was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December 2012. Just over a year later, he was gone. His parents saw their sons’ considerable strength during that brutal stretch. There was A.J., fighting against the disease while insisting that his family stay positive and keep laughing.
There was Joey, terrified by the thought of losing his brother, but becoming the mature and independent 17-year-old his parents needed him to be while they tended to A.J.
In the years since A.J.’s death, Joey continued on that path.
“He amazes me,” Joey’s mother, Laura, said Sunday. “Where he gets his strength to do this? Where he gets the drive to do this? But he tells me it’s easy for him to do because it’s for A.J., and he’ll do anything for his brother. That’s how they always were growing up.”
At events like this, the Slyes can’t help but think about whose family might be affected next, and how a donor registering at his event could be the lifesaving match they’ll need.
“If we can get one match out of this, it would be incredible,” David Slye said. “When you’re in that fight, you’re looking for a break and that break could be, ‘Hey, we found a match for you.’ A.J. didn’t have a match.”