During his career as a starting safety at Utah, never in a million years could Steve Tate imagine dealing with anything tougher than the grind of football and school at the same time. But Steve Tate the husband and father can.
Nearly eight years after his playing days were over Tate and his wife Savanna were blessed with the most beautiful and heart-wrenching gift they could ever have hoped to receive- their son Hayes.
Hayes was unique on many levels. As a triplet he had two built-in best friends along with three other older siblings who absolutely adored him. What was most unique of all about Hayes was the rare and aggressive cancer he had to battle at barely a year old and the fact that he had touched so many lives in his short life, doing more in 20 months than many accomplish in 80 years.
“Hayes was perfect. You talk about someone who lived life and enjoyed every moment of life despite facing the biggest obstacles- his cancer is the most aggressive form of cancer possible and his chemotherapy was the most aggressive that you can give a human,” Tate said of his super-hero son. “Hayes was not only able to tolerate it and able to do it with such positivity and bliss in his life. If you never met Hayes- baby blue crystal eyes that spoke to you and as I look back I think Hayes’ mission was greater than this world. I think he is just one of those spirits that had much bigger plans to begin with and I know he’s still continuing that. When you were around him or saw pictures of him- people were drawn to him because you could just see the life and the purity that he is.”
That pureness of human spirit that Hayes demonstrated in his short time on Earth is what his family is trying to carry on through the foundation they set up in his name: Hayes Tough. “Our goal is to provide that emotional and financial support to families that are dealing with childhood cancer,” Tate said. “Ultimately it’s endless. For Christmas we donated thousands of gifts up to Primary’s and so that will be part of it. We sent care packages all over the U.S. and all over the world.”
Another aspect of the Hayes Tough Foundation is the 5K run the Tate’s have hosted close to Hayes’ birthday that they use to help raise funds for other families of children with cancer. “We will continue to do this and we will hold another event- two events each year and our goal is to just help those families,” Tate continued. “We’ve been in that spot and we want to be able to- in some ways it is for us and Hayes- it helps us as much as it helps them. There are opportunities and if you look at the Make A Wish program any child under three doesn’t qualify. Fortunately, my wife and I were able to provide a trip for our family. At the time we didn’t know that would be our last trip, but it was. We want to be able to provide that for children that don’t get that Make A Wish Foundation. Not only help them with their medical needs but boost their moral with a family trip. Those things are ok to do.”
If anyone would know about the need to keep morale high it would be the Tates who found out the direness of Hayes’ condition on the eve of their first Hayes Tough 5K last year and have had to go about the second one just four short months since Hayes passed away. “Emotionally last year we were kind of- we had just gotten negative MRI results for Hayes and so we had organized it originally- it was the day after we got these MRI results and I remember waking up that morning being as down as I’ve ever been in my life and waking up, coming here and seeing a thousand people here supporting us,” Tate said. “As Hayes passed away we started this foundation and our intent was to give positivity to another family. That’s what our aim was today and our aim is for this foundation is to help other families going through the same battle. We were able to sponsor a couple of families here and hopefully lift their spirits not only financially but emotionally as well.”
The decision to be open and share Hayes’ story was a fairly easy and obvious choice for Tate since he knew it would get out anyway having “football fame” and he’s been happy to use his platform to help shed light on others going through similar situations with more limited resources. This year the Hayes Tough 5K raised $5000 each for two different families battling childhood cancer helping Tate fulfill a promise he made to his son that he would “continue to smile in times of sadness and help others smile as they battle life’s biggest trials”.
“Originally when we found out with Hayes- my life has never been private so I knew people would find out and that questions would be asked so my wife and I felt as though we needed to share our story so we put it out there and kind of took everyone that followed us along the journey of what it is like having a child go through something like this,” Tate said. “It opened our eyes and created perspective in our life. Never did I imagine it would blow up like this and we’d have the following we have had from all over the world and supported us. To me, of all the things I’ve done in life, they all pale in comparison to something like this. This is what humanity is all about- giving back to those people in need and if we can do that it helps us create and continue Hayes’ legacy.”
Even a very heated and sometimes volatile rivalry has been no match for the love that Hayes represents and Tate has been amazed by the outpouring of kindness he and his family have received not only from the Utes, but from Cougar fans as well. “What we have found out through all of this is that there is so much good in the world and this is an example of that,” he said. “I know that two tragedies happened here locally and hit home for both Utah and BYU and yet both fan bases were able to put things in perspective and realize what is important in life. You realize that is it; there is nothing more important. Doesn’t matter- sports, rivalries, nothing compares to that of a family and being there for people that need you.”
In late November that theory was put to the test when BYU running backs coach Reno Mahe suffered his own tragedy with his three year old daughter Elsie who eventually succumbed to injuries she sustained when she accidentally hung herself on blind cords while playing with a friend. The two former players found themselves in the hospital at the same time and had the opportunity to strike a friendship that crossed rivalry lines.
“It was pretty remarkable. I think between Elsie and Hayes- I think those two- I’m not sure but I wouldn’t doubt those two are hanging out right now and how it happened was pretty crazy,” Tate reflected. “We had found out the night before Elsie’s tragedy that Hayes’ cancer had returned and I remember I had Tweeted out something about it and seeing that Reno had retweeted it but I remember realizing at that point that we are all together in this thing having the BYU fan base reach out to me. Hours later I remember checking Twitter and seeing that Elsie had just suffered that tragedy and here Reno and I were both at the hospital and we talked at length and we were able to provide a little bit of support to each other. I think it makes me realize how good people are in this world.”
Hayes may have had a short time to get his message out to the world, but Tate is determined to help carry on his son’s legacy and show the people he comes across the same kind of love that Hayes put out so effortlessly. “Being Hayes Tough is so meaningful- it’s not just the masculinity of it,” Tate said. “Hayes Tough is also the love that is involved with it as well. Having triplets but especially going through this Hayes taught me how to love and as weird as it is, I think Hayes did face it as tough as you could get with the chemo but he also taught me how to love and how to give my time to my children and what it meant to love. To me it’s pure selflessness and that is what Hayes taught me- it’s about forgetting about yourself and putting others first.”