MARIETTA - Words about faith, family and community were humbly spoken by Chris Spielman, Ohio State football legend and ESPN college football analyst, Monday night.
During the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce's 99th annual dinner, Spielman was the keynote speaker who talked not only about his football career, but about his wife Stefanie's battle with breast cancer. She fought the disease for 12 years before passing away in 2009 at age 42. Before her death, the couple, parents to four children, raised millions for cancer research.
Spielman said that growing up, he had action figures, but they weren't played with in the traditional way.
Photo by Amanda Nicholson
Chris Spielman was the keynote speaker during the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce’s 99th annual dinner Monday.
"My guys were football guys," he said.
The sport was his life for a long time.
"I embraced it," he said. "I started defining myself as a football player. I truly believe God put me on earth to do that."
Spielman, who graduated from The Ohio State University in 1988, played 10 seasons in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns.
He said after having surgery on his back he became obsessed with recovery, and not soon after Stefanie had a miscarriage and was diagnosed with cancer.
Spielman said he lost it.
"I was screaming, 'Are you kidding me? First of all, I hurt my neck, my career's in jeopardy, we lost the baby and you have cancer...What did we do wrong? Why are we being punished?" he said.
He said Stefanie looked at him with disgust and said, "For once in your life, stop looking down the road and thinking that you deserve something good...Look behind you...Look at the thousands of blessings you've received."
He said then he decided to spend time working on his family instead of playing football.
After Stefanie's cancer returned, he said he had "an honest conversation with God."
"I learned that I can't outfight cancer...I can't out-practice it, I can't outrun it," he said. "I learned that God had a different plan."
Spielman said after Stefanie's fifth battle with the disease, she was ready to go.
"I had perfect peace," he said, adding that Stefanie said, "You've proved to me you could do it."
Spielman said she was talking about being a good father. He said she had no fear of dying.
"Everybody wants to go to heaven, but they don't want to die to get there," he said. "In her last days, I was able to love her and honor her. I was able to watch her go home in peace."
Spielman said the best thing to do is never take anything for granted and to share love with others.
"What you keep, you will lose," he said. "If you give all that away, it grows, prospers and spreads throughout your family and community. If you keep it inside it will wither up and die."
Spielman said after Stefanie's death, he realized that it is OK to be hurt, but it's also OK to experience joy again, to love and be loved again and to choose triumph over tragedy.
Charlotte Keim, president and CEO of the chamber of commerce, said Spielman's story should be an inspiration to everyone.
"For many of us, we have a family member suffering from cancer," she said. "(Spielman's) message was inspiring and moving."
He finished his speech with advice to everyone to find something inspiring, whether it's family, friends, music or a good book, and gain strength from that.
"You're much more capable than you ever thought possible," he said. "You'll be able to handle anything that comes your way. Do everything with love and you'll be able to overcome any obstacle, any challenge that comes your way, even death."
More than 800 people saw the chamber give out four awards to five upstanding citizens at the dinner Monday at the Dyson Baudo Recreation Center at Marietta College..
Award recipients were William "Charlie" Charles Schob as the Gabe Zide Citizen of the Year, George Broughton as the 2014 Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year, Charles and Mary Campbell as the Washington County Council of Cooperatives Agriculture of the Year and Candy Waite as the 40th Elizabeth "Betty" L. Hadler Zonta Woman of the Year.
Last year's recipient of the Gabe Zide Citizen of the Year Award, Nancy Putnam Hollister, described Schob's many contributions to the community.
Hollister said Schob had "years and years of service," and that his motto was to "Leave the woodpile higher than you found it."
Schob has volunteered as a Little League baseball coach, youth basketball coach, has served on the Bantam League board, YMCA board, Easter Seals and United Way. He is a charter member of the Morning Rotary Club and has been active in Safetytown and the Discovery Garden.
Jerry James and Gene Huck, last year's honorees, told Broughton's life story based on "It's a Wonderful Life" character George Bailey.
"Bedford Falls had George Bailey, and we have our own G.B. - George Broughton," they said.
Broughton is a member of the Rotary Club and maintains Broughton Wildlife, a 500-acre park where he built and maintains a cross country course for Marietta High School and hiking trails for the public.
Mary Campbell has served on the Washington County Farm Board, the Washington County Farm Bureau Board, Producers Livestock Board and the Washington County Fair Large Animal Livestock Committee. She established Farm City Day, which takes area students to farms throughout the county to learn about farming and conservation.
Charles Campbell has served as the president of the Waterford FFA, on the Waterford Fair Board for 50 years and was a member of the Washington County Farm Bureau Board and the Washington County Fair Large Animal Livestock Committee.
The Campbells were married in 1966 and farm 165 acres. They have about 200 head of ewes and 125 sows.
The Zonta Woman of the Year was presented to Waite, founder and operator of the Gospel Mission food pantry in Harmar. "(Waite) is definitely strong, compassionate, selfless, spiritual, motivated, wise and enduring," said presenter Sharon Coffman, adding that she was "tireless, energetic and caring."