Getting inspiration from an unexpected source on a special day

There are those who have never gleaned inspiration from the sports world and that's OK.

For me, I would say it happens about 12 times per day, from the travails of the Boston Red Sox to the high school and college athletes we cover at The Day - New London High School track standout Francine Jacque, for instance, who escaped earthquake-ravaged Haiti to win three Class M state championships a few weeks back - to the fantasy golf team I co-manage with my 86-year-old grandmother in Pennsylvania as one way we keep in touch.

And so I set out last week looking for inspiration.

As I've written about before, my yearly Flag Day tradition, June 14, includes traveling to watch the Red Sox play that day in honor of my late mom's birthday. My mom, a Red Sox fan on a grand scale, was inspired by them when she was too ill from Multiple Sclerosis to do much in the summer months but watch them.

I lost her in 2007. She would have been 64 on Friday, no doubt flummoxed when the Sox were shut out by the Orioles in Baltimore, a game I watched with my step-sister Jill and nephew Ryan from the left field box seats.

It was well before that, though, just as the clock struck midnight on June 14, that I found my inspiration, all right. I found it in 19-year-old Tyler Steinhardt, who a year ago founded a 24-hour lacrosse marathon called Shootout for Soldiers, to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.

My 14-year-old nephew, who will be a freshman at the same school from which Steinhardt graduated last year, the Boys' Latin School of Maryland, was playing the midnight game in the Shootout. And the 5 a.m. game. And volunteering for the entire 24-hour span. And sleeping for about an hour and a half before I dragged him to watch baseball.

A conversation with my step-sister before we took off to watch the midnight game went something like this. Jill: "Tyler, Tyler, Tyler, Tyler, Tyler."

I made a mental note to meet the guy.

Here's his story.

"The money is not something I focus on," said Steinhardt, who just finished his freshman year at American University in Washington, D.C. "I wanted something that's special for the community. We wanted to do something that was going to honor guys who served, in appreciation for their work and service.

"I love the sport of lacrosse. I played since I was four years old. It's what makes me happy. It's my relaxer. I love having the chance to do this."

Last year, Steinhardt, who originally thought he could raise $10,000, submitted an initial check to the Wounded Warrior Project of $105,000. The 24-hour game, broken up into one-hour segments, is played between teams called the Stars and the Stripes and the inaugural game featured more than 1,000 participants.

To top that, this year Steinhardt moved to a bigger venue at the McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Md., where he could feature side-by-side games for male and female participants.

There were 2,000 players, including the first game in the morning featuring veterans, some of them disabled. There were participants from Boys' Latin and from Major League Lacrosse teams traveling through. The youngest player was 8; the oldest was 71.

There was a visit from Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Team USA men's lacrosse coach Richie Meade, an autographed ball sent for the silent auction from Maryland football coach Randy Edsall and a hot dog eating contest at 4 a.m. By the closing ceremonies on the morning of June 14, Steinhardt had raised $126,000.

All this and more - he's also become the general manager of the Uganda Men's National Lacrosse Team - from a 19-year-old kid Steinhardt's mom Jennifer says has trouble finding his keys most days.

"For me, I get excited," said Steinhardt, from Reisterstown, Md. "If there's something kind of crazy to do, I want to chance that."

The day went on from there. Our family party of three added a stop at Fort McHenry prior to the Orioles game; who could miss a Flag Day photo op at the spot that prompted Francis Scott Key to craft what would become our national anthem by the dawn's early light?

It was Military Appreciation Day at the Orioles game, too, and there were fireworks afterward in the sky over Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was the perfect ending to a special day, even if perhaps there were a few tears shed.

So, thank you to my nephew Ryan Trupia for his spirit of volunteerism on what would have been his grandma's birthday. And to Tyler Steinhardt, previously a stranger but not any longer, for making my a life a little bit richer.

It was Gandhi who once said: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."

On Friday, there that message was, embodied in the spirit of an event called Shootout for Soldiers.

Most inspiring, wouldn't you say?

This is the opinion of Day Sports Writer Vickie Fulkerson.


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