Dec. 28, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- Paige Young was a Florida Gator fan around the lunch hour, but by midafternoon she had shifted her alliance.
"You guys are the winning team. I can already tell," Young said while sporting her new Hawkeye football t-shirt.
Young is a native of Holiday, Fla., but she's been confined to the halls of Tampa General Hospital for more than two weeks, unable to go outside.
Today she was one of the many hospital patients and staff that welcomed players from Iowa and LSU to the hospital. Team members from each school took a break from Outback Bowl preparation to wheel the welcome wagon around the Children's Medical Center and pose for photos while distributing school colors.
"It makes the environment a lot better in here," said Young. "I was a cheerleader so this is really cool. I've been looking forward to it. I'm so excited."
Kimberly Irizarry of Naples, Fla., shared that excitement, and spoke on behalf of her son Oliver, who has been hospitalized since Christmas Day.
"It just meant a lot to see that kid because other people were there for me and I knew what it would mean to him. I wanted to tell him to keep fighting, keep pushing on, everything will be alright. It meant a lot."
Sophomore Berkley Grimm
"Oliver plays flag football and wants to play tackle football because his older brother plays high school ball, so he's been to all the games," said Irizarry. "He's been in bed since Christmas and could not wait to come out here and see the players. This is great."
Iowa makes a habit of visiting local children's hospital at home and on bowl trips, but this is the first year the Outback Bowl has partnered with Tampa General Hospital.
"This is the first time they've come to Tampa General Hospital and we are just thrilled about that," said Mary Jane Harrington, director of community relations at the hospital. "We really appreciate the fact that they're not only taking time to have fun, play and practice, but they're also serving the community. It really means a lot and the kids are going to remember it all."
For at least one Hawkeye, the visit was personal. Sophomore fullback Berkley Grimm is a recent cancer survivor. He was late to an Iowa-LSU photo shoot because he didn't want to leave the hospital without speaking to a child he knew could use a lift.
"I recently survived a battle with cancer," said Grimm, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer in January 2013. "It's almost been a year now and it just meant a lot to see that kid because other people were there for me and I knew what it would mean to him. I wanted to tell him to keep fighting, keep pushing on, everything will be alright. It meant a lot."
It didn't take much arm twisting to persuade the Hawkeyes to attend. Chic Ejiasi, Iowa's director of player development, has been participating in hospital visits since he was a student-athlete from 2001-04.
"It comes from the top down," said Ejiasi. "Coach Ferentz is a big believer in community service and giving back. It's been a part of the program for a while and it's an opportunity to get in the community and get guys involved. I think it really helps our guys understand it's not just about playing football. You get an opportunity to give back because they've had the opportunity to do what they want to do, and that's play football. We have guys fortunate enough to do it."