The latter sidetracked Garrard’s NFL career for a short time after he was diagnosed in 2004. The former hit home hard when Garrard lost his mother, Shirley, to the disease when David was a teenager.
“I started the foundation in memory and honor of my mother, Shirley Garrard,” Garrard explained. “She died with breast cancer when I was 16. I really wanted to help out single mothers battling through breast cancer, having to go through chemo, having to go to therapy and still having kids to deal with. I just know how tough that was for her. Any little help I can (provide) for those females out there, I do as much as I can for them and their families.”
For example, all proceeds from the Foundation’s recent Fishing for the Cure event in Jacksonville were slated to go to a 3-year-old girl whose mother is battling breast cancer.
A couple of weeks after the fishing tournament, Garrard hosted a free football camp in Durham, N.C., for children from 7 to 17.
No question, if he could, he’d be taking part in the third edition of the Dolphins Cycling Challenge, which is scheduled for Nov. 3-4 this year and which raised more than $1.6 million for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center since its inception in 2010.
Garrard will be in Indianapolis that weekend for the Dolphins’ game against the Colts.
There’s another group of children Garrard tries to reach, and those are the kids afflicted by Crohn’s disease.
According to the official website of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA), Crohn’s disease “belongs to a group of conditions known as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) and is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract.”
It was named after the man who first described the ailment in 1932, Dr. Burrill B. Crohn.
In June of 2004, as he prepared to head into his third NFL season, Garrard was diagnosed with the disease. He underwent surgery to remove nearly a 12-inch portion of his intestines
“When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I didn’t even know what it was,” Garrard said. “I really didn’t realize how many kids were affected by it. When I started going around and talking at these camps around the country where all the kids there are dealing with Crohn’s, it really showed me that I have to be more of an influence, more of a leader out there for the fight with Crohn’s disease. These kids, all they want to have is their normalcy back, their life back, be able to go play with their friends, go have sleepovers and not feel awkward when they have to run to the restroom two or three times or just throughout the day.
“They’re all just so humble, but they’re so feisty because they want a cure for this disease and I do, too. So I just do whatever I can. I just have my football camp back in North Carolina, and my fishing tournament, my golf tournaments that I have, I just try to do whatever I can to raise some money and raise awareness, having interviews like this, just being able to let people that may not have heard about Crohn’s disease realize what it is and how many people — not kids, but older people, parents that have to deal with it — don’t want to tell people because it’s such a personal disease.
“I really believe the Lord blessed me with this disease because he knows that I didn’t have any problem talking about it. I’m just trying to be as much of an advocate for it as I can so everybody can hear what the disease is about and give whatever they can or just become more knowledgeable of it so that maybe there’s a real bright person out there that didn’t know anything about it and can find a cure for us one day.”
Garrard is among a list of athletes and celebrities who have dealt with the disease. Among others are actress Shannon Doherty, former San Diego Chargers kicker Rolf Benirschke and current Florida Panthers head coach and longtime NHL player Kevin Dineen.
Two others afflicted by the disease were former presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
The cause is important enough for Garrard that he once served as the spokesperson for the CCFA’s “In the Zone for Crohn’s” campaign. He raised $180,000 for the cause in 2009 alone.
But just being able to make an impact on the children with whom he can share his story is priceless for Garrard.
“Every time going into it, I leave it so much more pumped up, so much more enthused about wanting to go out and talk to everybody about it because I’ve been doing a great job of it, not having to see symptoms of it every day like a lot of these kids have to,” Garrard said. “And so it really reminds me that these kids that are struggling right front of me that I’m talking to, they have what I was having to go through back in 2004 and with that, I know how bad it was, I know how terrible I felt.
“Just think about that at 9, just think about that in middle school, high school. Just going to high school is already hard enough, with peer pressure and pimples and all those different things, but now you have a disease that you have to deal with and you don’t want to tell your friends, you don’t want to tell your classmates. So when you have to raise your hand and excuse yourself to the restroom all the time, even your teachers sometimes don’t get it and they give you a hard time about it.
“I think a lot of time when they can see a figure in the NFL on TV talking about this, then they can say, ‘You know what, they have what David Garrard has. Wow, let’s be a little bit more understanding to their needs and to what they’re going through.’ Those are the things I’m trying to do, just bring awareness to people that don’t know anything about it so they can help us that do have it.”
While Benirschke’s condition was bad enough that his weight went down to 124 pounds at one point and he had to undergo drastic surgery, Garrard was able to line up for the start of the 2004 season after having the surgery.
“When I was told, I actually said, ‘OK, what pill are you going to give me to take care of it?’ because I didn’t know anything about it,” Garrard recalled. “But once I realized how tough it was and once I started going through the battles of it, I just said, you know what, I’m just going to do whatever the doctors tell me to, I’m going to take whatever medicine, I’m going to go on whatever diet so that I can continue my career.
“I just did not want to be beat by anything. That happens a lot. You think about that a lot in football. You always want to come out victorious. Every game, every practice, every day, you want to be victorious. It really was no different for me when I was battling through that. I just thought, I’m going to be over with (it). And when I (am), I’ll be back out there, I’ll be back lifting, running, throwing the ball around to my teammates. I’ll have just beaten one more thing I can put on my notch on my belt and just move forward.”
As he continues to move forward, Garrard makes sure not to forget the past — his mother’s battle with breast cancer and his own medical situation — to help others enjoy a better future.