When you mix professional football players and cancer survivors together, you can imagine things will get competitive – even if it's just over a few games of pickleball.
That was the atmosphere at the Hockomock Area YMCA in Foxborough on Tuesday when a handful of Patriots Players visited the LIVESTRONG program.
Matthew Judon, Jonathan Jones, David Andrews, Myles Bryant, and Jahlani Tavai were all in attendance for games, autographs, photo ops, and conversations with adults impacted by cancer to bring a little joy to their days.
For a few players in particular, the cause hits especially close to home.
"In 2020, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer," Judon shared with the group after introducing himself. "I felt like that was kind of a traumatic year for everybody going through COVID-19 and not seeing loved ones. But on top of that, I couldn't go back home to see my mom. I couldn't be with her at all the appointments she had to go through."
Judon, who is one of 10 siblings, could only resort to Facetime, text messages, and a lot of prayers to be there for his mother at that time.
Teammate Jonathan Jones was in a similar situation with his aunt, who received the same diagnosis two years ago and lost her husband halfway through her battle.
"It made it kind of hard for her to get support from family, you know?" Jones said. "We all want to be there for loved ones, but COVID made it hard. But my aunt, I mean, she's a different lady. She's feisty. She's a fighter. She took it head on and she took it as a challenge."
Jones honored his aunt Angie in 2020 for My Cause My Cleats, and not long after, she was cancer-free to celebrate turning 53. Jones created the Next Step Foundation to raise awareness about the different types of breast cancer and support families impacted by it.
The mission aligns with that of the LIVESTRONG program.
The initiative provides comprehensive support programs to address specific challenges associated with diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The YMCA partnered with LIVESTRONG to help cancer survivors begin their journey toward recovery.
Along with building muscle mass and strength, increasing flexibility and endurance, and improving confidence and self-esteem, the program offers participants a sense of community. And in Tuesday's case, it allowed a few men and women to show off by beating professional athletes in pickleball.
The visit was part of the Patriots Foundation's month-long focus on healthcare and the NFL's Crucial Catch Campaign, and Judon left everyone with some words of encouragement.
"She took every treatment seriously, started changing what she ate, started to do different things," Judon said, relating his mother's journey to the strides being taken at the LIVESTRONG program.
"I'm so glad she did that and she made it through. Not only because she wanted to live, but I needed her to live. I need her in my life. I'm not ready for her to be gone, selfishly. So continue to fight, because we need you all."