Childhood bond empowered Zack Mahoney to be president of Syracuse’s Uplifting Athletes chapter

first_imgZack Mahoney rubbed his hands on his knees to wipe away the sweat. His heart raced. The room went silent. Then, he smiled and hung up the phone. “Oh my god, I’m a walk-on at Syracuse,” Angela Donegan recalled Mahoney saying. “We were literally screaming,” Donegan added. It was the week of Christmas 2014, and Mahoney had just completed his redshirt freshman season at the College of DuPage in Illinois. His dream was to play at a Power 5 school, and that was his chance. Within three weeks, he had sent over his DuPage transcripts and been accepted to Syracuse to begin football on Jan. 3, 2015. When he received the call, Mahoney and members of the Donegan family cried. Mahoney was sitting on the couch next to one of his closest friends since the second grade, Blake Donegan. Blake battles Niemann-Pick disease, Type C, a lipid storage affliction that can cause liver damage and respiratory failure. He suffers seizures daily, his mother, Angela, said. The disease has no known cure and can be fatal.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“I’ve kinda always been waiting for this bomb to drop,” Angela said.Whenever he’s home from Syracuse, in the offseason or on break, Mahoney visits Blake, often bringing with him Syracuse gear. Mahoney, Syracuse’s senior backup quarterback who has thrown for 18 touchdowns over three seasons, serves as the president of SU’s chapter for Uplifting Athletes, a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 that is intended to raise awareness about rare diseases. Mahoney grew close with Blake, a childhood connection that empowered him to become the president of SU’s chapter.“On the first day of high school, when I saw him, he was in a wheelchair,” Mahoney said. “I was extremely confused, because over the school year he was running around, fine, and now to this day, he struggles to stand on his own. He struggles to eat by himself. He struggles to speak. It’s tough. He’s always in good spirits when I’m around. He’s given me a lot of inspiration for everything I do.”Blake cheered on Mahoney when he played at DuPage, a junior college. Though he has never been to the Carrier Dome, he expects to watch Mahoney’s final college game on Saturday at 12:20 p.m. from his television. The Orange (4-7, 2-5 Atlantic Coast) will host Boston College (6-5, 3-4) on Senior Day inside the Carrier Dome, and Mahoney will likely make his 10th and final career start under center. Courtesy of Zack MahoneyThis summer, Mahoney led Syracuse in its fifth annual “Lift for Life” event in which SU football players compete in physical activities to raise money for the chapter. In 2013, Syracuse joined Uplifting Athletes, which the Orange created to honor former punter and team captain Rob Long, who overcame Anaplastic Astrocytoma, a rare form of brain cancer that caused him to miss the final game of his career, the Pinstripe Bowl, in 2010. Long has been cancer free since March 2011 and now works as Uplifting Athletes’ director of development. It will be seven years next month since Long underwent the brain surgery that caused him to miss his final collegiate game. Now, Uplifting Athletes runs a network of 22 university chapters at Division I schools, including at Penn State, Clemson and Syracuse. Rare diseases affect fewer than 200,000 people in the United States, and Uplifting Athletes has had an economic impact of more than $400 million on the rare-disease community, per the organization. Mahoney will soon step down as president, but he has left footprints all over the Syracuse chapter. “Zack has been an incredible chapter president for us, part of a great pipeline of guys who step up,” Long said. “He’s done an excellent job rallying the team, getting all 120 voices of the program involved. Our growth has been special.”Mahoney wouldn’t be president if not for Blake, whom he met in elementary school. The pair bonded while playing football during recess. They played little league baseball together. But Mahoney didn’t see Blake for a full summer before ninth grade. Blake entered school that year in a wheelchair. Mahoney wondered why. For years, Angela kept Blake’s condition a secret. She said she did not want him to be treated differently from other kids. When he was 16, in 2011, Angela ended the secret.“He lost his ability to speak and he can’t walk much,” Angela said. “It frustrates him. Many kids have eating tubes. He can’t sit up and walk on his own. But he’s truly a fighter. People like Zack keep him going.”Mahoney has made 5:30 a.m. hospital visits to see Blake. He has banged on the Donegan family door at 11 p.m. when home on break, just to hug Blake. When they watch TV together, Mahoney sits right next to Blake and puts his arm around him. They lay together in a hammock in the Donegan backyard. Throughout high school and his career at Syracuse, Mahoney has kept in close contact with Blake. “The thing always impressed me,” said Tony Pendergast, Blake’s school nurse who rode the bus and went to every class with Blake for six years, “was that Zack greeted him in class. He included him in class activities. He sat with him. During lunch at the cafeteria, Zack would sometimes sit with us at our table. He was an example for other students. When you see Zack doing it, the quarterback, a very popular student, making all of this time for Blake, other kids would follow that.”Mahoney arrived at Syracuse in January 2015 as a walk-on. By February, he had heard about Uplifting Athletes and knew he wanted to be president because of all the times people have double-taked at Blake. The relationship between Blake and Mahoney has only grown. They snap each other daily. They FaceTime often. They play together in the pool or on a trampoline in the Donegan family’s backyard. Mahoney never hangs up the phone without telling Blake that he loves him. Before Blake had a scheduled surgery early this month, Mahoney called him to wish him good luck. And every time he visits, Mahoney doesn’t leave without giving Blake a hug and a kiss.”I love you, brother,” Mahoney always says. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 25, 2017 at 1:26 am Contact Matthew: [email protected] | @MatthewGut21last_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *