When Bears assistant athletic trainer Will Rogers was in college 16 years ago, he participated in a dance marathon to raise money to fight pediatric cancer.
While Rogers had fun at the event and enjoyed helping a great cause, he never dreamed that raising money for kids with cancer would become an integral part of his life. But that all changed in June 2017 when his eight-month-old daughter, Charlotte, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“When I went to Penn State, I did a dance marathon where you stand up and dance for 48 hours and try to raise money for pediatric cancer,” Rogers said. “I did it and I will never forget that experience. But I never, ever thought it would hit home like this.”
Encouraged by a cousin who had beaten lymphoma to enter a fundraising campaign, Rogers was recently named the Man of the Year by the Illinois chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for raising the most money to fight the disease.
During the 10-week campaign this spring, Rogers generated $411,000 in donations on a website blog as well as via live and silent auctions at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual gala.
Winning the Man of the Year Award wasn’t as important to Rogers and his wife, Kristin, as raising nearly half a million dollars.
“The quote that we like to say is that it doesn’t matter who wins, cancer loses,” Rogers said.
Rogers has been in his present position with the Bears since 2012. Kristin also works for the team as a recruiting and training facilitator.
A large percentage of the donations Rogers generated came from current and former Bears players and coaches.
“What I was most surprised but also very, very excited and emotional about is the support that I received from this organization, the McCaskey family, this team, the players and coaches,” Rogers said. “What they did to help me win was just above my expectations. My initial goal was to raise $50,000. I promise you if I would have raised $50,000, I would have been happy.”
Not all of the funds raised came from people who know the Rogers family.
“One of the donations that I like to talk about is someone from Germany donated $25,” Rogers said. “I have no idea who they are, I have no idea if they know who I am. I’ve never met them in my life, but somehow, I’m assuming through social media, they got wind of it and donated $25.
“People donated $5, people donated much more than that. But it’s just the fact that people are willing to help out. I think that’s the most incredible thing. In the time that we are in right now where there’s just so much polar opposites—I believe in this and you believe in that—that this is going on where people find something to rally around and help out, it’s just incredible.”
Charlotte, meanwhile, is doing extremely well. She remains in remission, became a big sister last summer when baby Caroline was born and recently celebrated her third birthday.
“She’s great,” Rogers said. “She’s happy, she’s playing, she’s loving life. She loves being a big sister. It’s just incredible to see her do things that a three-year-old should be doing because she really hasn’t been able to the last two years.”
Rogers knows that not all children are as fortunate as Charlotte. Determined to brighten their days, he invited Bears players to visit patients at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago—where his daughter was treated—each of the past two seasons.
“We saw so many kids and we really got exposed to how big this is—bigger than us,” Rogers said. “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do? How can we give back to these other families and kids that are going through it?’ So why not try to get Bears players to go visit them?”
Rogers was overwhelmed by the support he received, as about 30 players made the hospital visit both times.
“It’s incredible because what you want to do is just give these kids some sort of hope,” Rogers said. “And I promise you it doesn’t matter who it is; a practice-squad player, a Pro Bowler, whoever, it’s a Bears player coming into their room for five minutes and you can change their life.
“Some of these kids are in there for months at a time. All it takes is for one of these guys to show up and spend a few minutes with them and they love it.”
Charlotte is doing well and the fundraising campaign that Rogers won is over. But that doesn’t mean Will and Kristin won’t continue to actively support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“Kids are getting diagnosed every day and they’re not surviving,” Rogers said. “We consider ourselves so lucky and fortunate that Charlotte is doing as well as she’s doing and that she survived. But we still ask, ‘What can we do? How can we give back?’
“It’s raising money. It’s raising awareness and telling a story. It’s not stopping now. Whatever it is, we’re going to still continue to try to help as we move forward in our lives because this has just touched us so much.”