Khaire Williams has lost track of how many articles of clothing he owns with “ChadTough” printed across them.
Among his collection is an assortment of t-shirts, a hoodie, and an orange, white, and blue winter hat that the college sophomore wears as a good luck charm on the days he takes the court with the Lake Michigan College men’s basketball team.
Williams is constantly asked to explain the meaning of the nine-lettered message his clothes convey.
But for someone who first met Chad Carr the year he was diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) when Williams was a junior at Romulus High School, the clothes – and the meaning behind them – are only a small part of the meaningful connection he still feels to Chad.
These clothes that make up such a large part of Williams’ wardrobe pay homage to the way Chad fought until the end.
“Every time I wear a t-shirt, it just helps me to remember how tough he was,” Williams said. “It inspires me to go a little bit harder.”
Williams first met Chad when the youngster would visit his aunt, Romulus High School teacher Melissa Carr. Melissa, the sister of Chad’s father, Jason, ran the study table program for Williams and his teammates on the Romulus basketball team.
When Williams and his teammates broke for dinner, Chad made himself at home and joined an UNO game among his new high-school-aged friends. He would also attend some of the team’s games and other gatherings.
The connection was both instant and lasting.
The Romulus basketball team quickly became involved with ChadTough fundraising efforts and volunteered at the first few RunTough for ChadTough events. After Chad’s passing 14 months after his DIPG diagnosis, Williams and his teammates gathered for Chad’s Celebration of Life, a day that Williams said hasn’t left him in the years since.
As he witnessed what was happening around him at the celebration service, Williams couldn’t help but notice how much pain Melissa Carr and the rest of Chad’s family felt as they remembered Chad. Although Williams had only met Chad a short time before, the fact that Chad was so young when he was diagnosed and that his battle lasted only a short time left a lasting impression on Williams and his teammates.
It continues today.
“It’s crazy that, how many years later, (Williams and his former Romulus teammates) continue to be involved with ChadTough and talk to people about it,” Melissa Carr said. “I clearly appreciate it, but I was amazed that they would go out of their way to do all the things they’ve done over the years.”
Carr added, “It’s a connection. It’s a connection.”
Since arriving on Lake Michigan College’s campus in Benton Harbor in the fall of 2017, Williams has continued to spread the ChadTough message. His involvement with the foundation led both his basketball coach, Jeremy Schaeffer, and Lake Michigan athletic director Melissa Grau to ask about the connection he had to ChadTough.
Grau, a loyal Michigan football fan, became aware of ChadTough after Chad was diagnosed and ESPN broadcast a feature about Chad’s fight against DIPG. But when she noticed that one of Lake Michigan’s players regularly wore ChadTough gear around campus and during his basketball practices, Grau came to understand how deep Williams’ connection to Chad and the ChadTough mission ran.
“He’s not someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve,” Grau said. “And so for him to bring something like that up and watch his passion was phenomenal.”
Williams asked if there was something the school could do to help ChadTough despite the fact that the small college campus sits on the opposite side of the state.
“How do you say no?” Grau said.
Williams helped to spearhead a fundraiser at a game in February against Grand Rapids Community College, when players from both the men’s and women’s basketball teams wore ChadTough-inspired warm-ups for their games and shared facts about DIPG and the search for a cure during timeouts and at halftime of both games.
Grau wants Lake Michigan College athletes to be involved in giving back but has been amazed that Williams’ fellow students have gravitated toward ChadTough because of Williams’ passion for the cause.
Over the years, Williams’ knowledge of DIPG has deepened as he has become more aware of how many children are impacted each year by this deadly form of pediatric brain tumor. Williams’ passion, though, has risen to a different level because he got know to Chad and because he has witnessed the impact that Chad’s fight has made since his passing.
Although the clothes are just a reminder, Williams said he is committed to carrying a piece of Chad with him for the rest of his life.
“(Chad’s passing) just hurt me because he was so young,” Williams said. “(It taught me) you just have to cherish every moment because you never know when it’s going to be your time. You have to make the best out of your life because you never know if something like that can happen to you.”
Author: Jeff Arnold