In addition to a passion for ministry and serving my Savior, anyone who has spent time around me knows that I have also been passionate for most of my life about sports, as well as an innate curiosity and appreciation for history. I’ve always been intrigued when multiple passions intersect or provide an opportunity for cross-application. One story I encountered this week offered such an occasion.
From a very young age Konrad Reuland was showing signs of exceptional energy. At age four, he jumped out of the grocery cart. His mom could not keep up with him. When she finally did, he was hiding in a frozen food cooler. So the Reuland family chose to harness that energy by enrolling him in youth sport leagues. He played basketball, football and baseball.
At age 11, Konrad had an experience that would change his life forever. Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew visited his school to meet and encourage the children. The Angels infielder, who had bore the No. 29 throughout his career, had been Rookie of the Year in 1967 and was an All-Star for 18 consecutive seasons. He was 1977 American League Most Valuable Player and the winner of seven batting titles. He was a legend in the Los Angeles area.
Konrad had the opportunity to meet him personally. His mom remembered that the encounter was all Konrad could talk about when she picked him up from school that day. “And I remember him getting into the car when I went to pick him up, and he says, ‘Mommy! Mom! Mom! I met Rod Carew today!’ and, ‘You know, he was a pro athlete!’ and, ‘You know, I want to be a pro athlete!’ The whole rest of the day just resonated with him talking about his meeting Rod Carew, and it sure left an impression on young Konrad.”
As Reuland completed high school, he was a gifted athlete and focused on the sport of football. In college, Konrad played football for two years for Notre Dame and two years at Stanford. He then played professionally for four pro teams, including the San Francisco 49ers who drafted him, the Indianapolis Colts, the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets, the latter of which where he caught 11 passes during his first year.
Reuland was just beginning to be recognized as a rising star when a knee injury knocked him out of the sport he loved. When he finally recovered, NFL teams were reluctant to take a chance on him, but that didn’t stop Konrad from preparing for the opportunity he was sure would be right around the corner. He was, by all accounts, in the best shape of his life.
One day, while in the gym, Konrad climbed onto a treadmill. He had been lifting weights and was finishing up with some cardio work when he felt a headache. As he began to jog, Konrad felt something click behind his right eye. Paramedics had to be called. By the time he was admitted to UCLA Medical Center, medical professionals had diagnosed him with a major aneurysm.
The next day his mother, who had went to the cafeteria to pick up some coffee for her son, offered him an encouraging message. Konrad replied: ”I’m about to kick this thing’s butt, with the help of God. He had something big in store for me.” That was the last conversation she would have with her son. Shortly after, the aneurysm burst, and Konrad never regained consciousness. On Dec. 12, 2016, Konrad Reuland passed away at the age of 29.
Some months earlier, while filling out a motor vehicle form, Konrad had checked a little box indicating his willingness to be an organ donor in the event of his death. Now, his heart, that powerful, healthy organ of a professional athlete, would save the life of another individual.
His mother remembered speaking with a member of the transplant organization. ”’Whoever gets his heart, we would like to meet them,” she recalled. “And then the next thing I said was, ‘And whoever gets his heart better deserve it, because it’s a good one.’”
Not long after, somewhere across town, a call went out to the recipient at the top of the organ transplant list. That recipient, in the providence of God, just happened to be none other than Rod Carew, the same MLB hall of famer who had been so instrumental in encouraging a young Konrad Reuland 18 years earlier. The heart Carew had inspired, as well as one of Reuland’s kidneys, would now be what contributed to saving Carew’s life.
After his diagnosis, Carew had started a foundation to further awareness and research for heart disease. The name of this foundation: the Heart of 29.
In any community, whether it is a city of millions or a church or community of dozens or hundreds, we are often encouraged by those we’ve encouraged, and we’re helped by those we have helped.
In God’s Word we find these words from Jesus: ”Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)
Occasionally, God gives us a glimpse of the machinery of creation. This week, let’s take notice of those who encourage, help and inspire us and take the opportunity to be sources of encouragement to them and others. You never know to what lengths your presence and influence can impact those around you, or how someone may make a difference in your own life.