Longwell befriends young amputee during bye

Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell and his wife took time during his bye week to befriend a 17-year-old girl whose soccer dream ended when an accident resulted in a leg being amputated. The Longwells had no previous connection to the girl, only compassionate hearts.

When it comes to finding out what players do on their bye week, the information you get is pretty much the standard fare. Rookies reveled in the time off. Phil Loadholt went back home to Colorado to hang out with friends. Percy Harvin returned the sidelines of the University of Florida as a conquering alumni hero. Veterans weren't much different. Brett Favre went hunting in southeastern Minnesota. Steve Hutchinson just used the time to heal.

For players in a team game with incredibly high demands on their time and their bodies, the bye week is a chance to be selfish – to do whatever you want without being told by a coach where to be or what to do. It's their time and they usually don't want to talk about it, because it had nothing to do with football.

Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell had a very different experience that speaks to both the impact of celebrity and the compassion of a person with a good heart. The Vikings do a lot of charity work throughout the year. At times, it can be a photo op at a local school, a food shelf or serving up meals to those in need during the holidays. Much more is done behind the scenes without publicity or notice. Such was the case for Longwell.

At first, Longwell's response sounded painfully familiar. It was the same story with the names changed as several other veterans' stories. They made sure nobody stole their couch and just decompressed away from the game. Longwell and his family went back to their home in Florida and it had all the makings of the textbook version of time off. But, Longwell's story was different. Much different – despite starting off pretty standard.

"I went back to Orlando and hung out with Sarah and the kids," Longwell said. "I got to visit some friends and spent time with one of our good friends in the hospital."

The friend in question is Bree McMahon, a 17-year-old from Orlando who was critically injured in September at a fundraising car wash for her club soccer team. McMahon was going to college on a full-ride soccer scholarship and her future looked bright until a freak accident ended that dream in an instant.

One of her best friends drove up to the car wash and inadvertently hit the gas instead of the brakes and pinned McMahon against a cement wall. Both of her legs were crushed by the force of the vehicle and she underwent seven surgeries in two weeks. It was a story that touched the Longwell family, even more so by its sad conclusion.

"She had to get a leg amputated," Longwell said. "It was just a tragic story, but her attitude has been amazing. She is a remarkable person."

The Longwells were touched by the tragic events and contacted McMahon's family to ask if there was anything they could do. Phone calls turned into a personal visit over the bye week. While other players were taking some deserved time for themselves, Longwell was trying to lift the spirits of someone less fortunate. She became a family priority.
"We've kind of taken her under our wing and lifted her spirits," Longwell said. "It was awful what happened to her and it just touched me and my wife what she was going through."

It would be one thing if McMahon and her family were friends of the Longwells or members of the same church or from the same neighborhood. But they were strangers, which made putting Bree ahead of their precious little family time even more gracious.

"We've developed a good relationship," Longwell said. "We didn't know her before, but read the story and tried to reach out and make contact. Sarah and I spent three days hanging out at the hospital. She was able to be released for a few days, so we were able to take her out to lunch and have some fun."

McMahon's story of remaining positive through adversity has gained some national attention. She was recently profiled on "The Today Show" in a story of her courage amid a tragedy that should befall no child. She has remained positive and Longwell said he and his family will continue to offer friendship and support for as long as she wants it or needs it.

Most of his teammates kicked back over their bye week to do whatever makes them feel better and gets them relaxed. Longwell sacrificed a good portion of his to someone who was a stranger less than two months ago and is now thought of as a de facto family member. He and his family have given her the gift of compassion and friendship. But Longwell said the gift has been returned ten-fold for the good it has done in their hearts.

"It's just been a real blessing for my family," Longwell said. "Her situation gives you some perspective on what's important in life and to appreciate the gifts you have."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

Viking Update Top Stories