It’s not often that you come across a story worth telling to thousands of people. It’s even more rare to find that somebody you interact with almost every day, has been through so much. The story of Michael “Big Mike” Young isn’t exactly tragedy to triumph. His story isn’t one with a pretty plot, a cast of witty characters and a feel-good moment at the end; although (thank goodness) the end isn’t anywhere in sight for Mr. Young. His story is one of perseverance and persistence. The common link between Mike and I? The Washington Redskins.
Michael Young (46) was born in Prince George’s County, Maryland and was a self proclaimed Redskins fan from birth. He was your average high school student, graduating from Gwynn Park in 1984. At the age of 21, however, Mike was involved in an automobile accident in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. The vehicle he was riding in was flipped upside down and the driver was ejected. Thankfully, Big Mike wore his seatbelt. The seatbelt had temporarily saved his life, but there was another issue immediately after the accident had occurred. There was a leak in the gasoline tank. As police arrived on the scene they successfully removed him from the vehicle that would eventually burst into flames and explode shortly thereafter.
"I died three times, twice in the helicopter that took me to the hospital and once inside of P.G. Hospital."
Needless to say, at this point of the “interview” I was speechless.
Michael suffered nerve damage to his head, neck, and entire right side of his body. His speech was also affected by the accident. For the ensuing 25 years, Mike has done nothing but improve his community through volunteering and rooting for his Redskins. The team has been there for him through the good and the bad, as Mike has been there for the team.
I first met Mike back in 2011 and once he knew that I was a Redskins fan (and a writer), the team was the topic of the day anytime he visited. We talked about Rex’s interceptions, out draft position for 2012, the two victories over the Giants and everything else typical fans would focus on. I found from my conversations with him that he had a good depth of knowledge of the team and that he seemed to be aching to talk about it.
Michael, now in his electric scooter, makes the trip from his apartment in Montgomery County, Maryland to Holy Cross Hospital five days a week where he volunteers in the Pain Management unit. Mike has been a volunteer for the hospital the last four years and has even been commended in the hospital’s internal magazine for his over 2,000 (now 0ver 4,000) hours of community service in the physical therapy department. Michael not only volunteers there, he goes through treatment there in his quest to walk again.
Here is an excerpt from the article –
"As rain poured from the sky, Gary Vogan, chief financial officer, looked at the man in the wheelchair in disbelief. He said, “Why are you here?” The man in the wet poncho, a hospital volunteer, had just navigated his motorized wheelchair nearly two miles in a steady rainto get to his assignment at Holy Cross Hospital. He answered, “If I don’t come, who will do my job?”"
Michael was also featured in an article in the Washington Post –
"In 2007, as the Washington area battled heavy snow, Michael was the focus of an article in The Washington Post, which described how he shoveled out the cars of fellow Inwood House residents and dug his way to the bus stops so he could get supplies for himself and his neighbors."
After gathering all of this information I just couldn’t believe that one man had dedicated so much of his life to helping others when most would be focusing only on themselves. My disbelief would deepen after what I heard next. I asked him if he’d ever seen the Redskins play at FedEx Field. His answer was no. Surely then he must have seen the team back in it’s heyday at RFK Stadium, right? Again, he replied “nope”- I didn’t know what to say. He then told me about his favorite players in Art Monk and Darrell Green, when the Redskins beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII and how Doug Williams was “one hell of a quarterback.” He talked to me about his new Ryan Kerrigan jersey and how he would always just watch the game at home. When I asked him why he had never been to a game before he responded simply “because nobody had ever asked.”
"When you get hurt, sometimes other people don’t want to see you. It’s like you have a disease they can catch. When you’re alone, you can get down, and then you’re not going anywhere. People need to keep in touch."
Redskins fans come from all walks of life and the passion for the game can create a common ground for individuals with completely different circumstances that would otherwise never interact. Young still volunteers at Holy Cross and he still wears a big smile on his face wherever he goes. He’s now looking forward to attending his first Redskins game this upcoming season and with a little help, hopes to be in the lower bowl. The Redskins could take a lesson from Mike and stick to the plan, fight through the pains of rebuilding a team and essentially a franchise while working towards an ultimate goal without fear of setbacks. If the ‘Skins can resolve to do things the right way, as Mike has, they will ultimately be in a much better position as they move into the future.
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