Former USC and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Kenechi Udeze(notes) is one person who didn't bail on the rest of his life because his primary dream didn't work out the way he wanted. Selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the first round of the 2004 draft, Udeze lived up to his standing as the nation's top prospect at his position for a while, registering five sacks in his rookie year and coming back from injuries to get five more sacks in his final NFL season of 2007.
Then, the bad news hit Udeze like a ton of bricks. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia -- cancer of the blood and bone marrow -- in February of 2008. He received a marrow transplant from his brother and began the long road back to health. Amazingly, he was able to take part in a few minicamp snaps in 2009, forging hopes of a comeback, before numbness and sensitivity his feet - a side effect of his chemotherapy - put an end to his NFL dreams once and for all.
That would have crushed a lot of people, but Udeze has always been intent on proving that he's not like most. He went back to USC, got his degree in sociology, and he's now working as the strength and conditioning coach for former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington. He's now in remission and living life as a father and husband.
"I think I had too many of those," Udeze said in a recent radio interview with a Seattle sports talk station, when asked if he'd ever had any "Why me?" moments. "From the day I stepped on the USC campus, I broke every record in the weight room. I lost 100 pounds just to start playing football. And to say that this would happen to me ... I just didn't understand. But with every day that goes by, and working with the kids here at the University of Washington, that my life is so much more meaningful and has so much more purpose now that I can affect so many more lives than just performing as a football player."
Now associated with Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG foundation, Udeze will take part in the LIVESTRONG challenge in Seattle on June 19th and 20th. "Over the past 13 years, the LIVESTRONG organization has raised more than $60 million for the fight against cancer," Udeze said. "When I was diagnosed, I was all for it - I would do all kinds of charity events. I try to do all that I can, because I feel that anyone who goes through what I had to deal with, and so many others have to, you feel that it's a duty and a responsibility. So, what we're trying to do is to inspire and empower individuals - families, friends, and co-workers - to come together and be united in this fight against cancer."
Kenechi Udeze always impressed as a player, but it's pretty obvious where his true strength lies - it's in his heart and soul, and in his need to help and inspire others as he has been helped and inspired. His is a remarkable story which becomes even more special as he finds himself further and further on from the playing field.