When Jack Hoffman and Rex Burkhead first met in 2011, neither could have known it would be the start of a friendship that would span years and thousands of miles. Hoffman is relentless in his support of Burkhead, and in turn, Burkhead uses his platform as an NFL running back to shine a light on an under researched and underfunded area that directly affects Hoffman: pediatric brain cancer.
In 2011, when Hoffman was just 5-years-old, he had a seizure and doctors discovered a brain tumor. He underwent two brain surgeries within five months, and to this day, his battle with pediatric brain cancer, as well as epilepsy, continues.
After meeting Hoffman and his family just weeks before his second operation, Burkhead quickly joined Team Jack – both as a friend and as an advocate for pediatric brain cancer research. The Team Jack Foundation has raised more than $8 million for research since its inception, and while folks continue to practice physical distancing in light of COVID-19, its annual Team Jack Trifecta event is going virtual.
The event features a 5k, a free-contest and a football clinic, all taking place from July 11 to 18. Though the Trifecta typically takes place in Plano, Texas, a silver lining in this moment is that now anyone can participate no matter where they are.
"We're excited to have not just my hometown or the state of Texas involved, but really just the whole country. Anyone can sign up," Burkhead said. "We've had people all over, Nebraska, California, Florida, all signing up. That's really neat that we can stretch out and really reach out to anyone."
Instead of a routed 5k, runners can choose their own path. Instead of a 3-on-3 basketball tournament that Burkhead said can get "pretty competitive," people can take on a free-throw contest. Signing up for the football camp gives participants access to prerecorded drills. They will then have the option to send their own videos back for critiques.
It will be a very different experience from years past, but the important thing is it will continue to raise money for an important cause.
"Pediatric brain cancer, it's still not heavily funded. It's a rare disease," Burkhead said. "It doesn't get much funding. It still needs a cure to be found and better treatment options really for these kids. That's the thing. A lot of these treatment options are over 30-years-old."
Despite the push for funding and research, the Hoffman family has made it their mission to do something about it by raising money and being a beacon of hope for families who share in their struggles.
Hoffman himself has managed to show strength at every turn. After consulting doctors, Hoffman competed in his first season of tackle football last fall.
While attending the Patriots 2018 AFC Championship win over the Chiefs in Kansas City, Hoffman suffered a seizure during halftime. After leaving the stadium and taking some time in the parking lot to recover, Hoffman insisted that he and his father go back in for the second half.
Burkhead went on to score two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime, and because of Hoffman's fortitude, he was in the stands to see it.
"It was unreal …. I got to see them afterwards and they told me," Burkhead said. "It was cool to have them there and experience it, and him and his dad flew out and watched the Super Bowl in Atlanta two weeks later."
To support the Team Jack Foundation by registering for the Trifecta, donating or bidding on the auction, you can visit its website here.