Georgia's athletic community was horrified three years ago when freshman baseball player Chance Veazey suffered a broken neck in a scooter accident. The accident left the baseball program reeling and the community stunned.
But when outfielder Johnathan Taylor suffered a career-ending injury two years later when he collided with a teammate while trying to get a fly ball during a game with Florida State, the Bulldogs were devastated.
"It is a terrible experience to endure, especially when lightning struck twice within Bulldog Athletics," said former football player Wes Van Dyk, who is heading up Georgia's new Game Ball Relay – a 24-hour, foot-powered relay, which will deliver the game ball from Atlanta to Sanford Stadium for the kickoff of the Bulldogs' game with Buffalo and benefit the Shepherd Center, where Taylor and Veazey were both treated after their injuries.
"Chance and Johnathan are two of the greatest guys around, and I look up to them both a great deal," Van Dyk said of the duo's long fight. "We wanted to create something positive that energized the Bulldog Nation while recognizing the good that Shepherd has done for the community, and for Georgia".
Van Dyk decided to act – and bring the Bulldog Nation along with him in starting the Game Ball Relay, which benefits the Shepherd Center - a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord or brain injury.
Van Dyk decided he was going to help push from the grassroots up to the administration level to help. Van Dyk's work paid off, as Georgia's athletic department is fully behind the effort.
"It was a no brainer for all of the good will it can generate," Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said of the inaugural event. I think this brings to light what a special service so many health care providers offer – namely the Shepherd center. For those of us who have gotten to know them, the Shepherds have done so much--not just for Georgia, but also for all humanity. It is all good stuff."
Former players, including a slew from Georgia's 1980 national championship team, will deliver the game ball. Their walk from Atlanta to Athens will start on Friday morning at the Shepherd Center and arrive at Sanford Stadium in time for kickoff of the #6 Bulldogs' game with Buffalo.
"Georgia fans should know better than most that we should never, ever take our physical well being for granted. We have seen some great young people in need benefit from the unparalleled expertise and caring that only the Shepherd Center can provide," 1980 place kicker Rex Robinson said.
Veazey, who was treated at the Shepherd Center in 2009, says that he is grateful for the support Georgia is offering with the Game Ball Relay.
"The Shepherd Center and the University of Georgia have been a major part of my recovery since my injury in 2009," Veazey, who will also help in the relay, said. "They have both been a huge part of my life. I will forever be indebted to the Shepherd Center and Georgia – and will always jump at the chance to give back to these two wonderful institutions."
McGarity said that he's not surprised, but glad that the event is being put together and executed by former lettermen at Georgia.
"It is a testimony to the type of people they are," he said.
From left to right: Wes Van Dyk, Chance Veazey, Johnathan Taylor and Tyler Maloof.