PORTLAND, Ore. – Ask Joe Bendik about his eight-year-old nephew Gavin, and his eyes instantly light up.
You see, Gavin has cystic fibrosis and Bendik, the Portland Timbers backup goalkeeper, has used his notoriety as a professional soccer player to support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. It’s a passion that has led Bendik to raise close to $3,000 through the Portland chapter of Team Gavin as a part of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Great Strides National Walk Event.
Those efforts have earned him the MLS W.O.R.K.S. Humanitarian of the Month award for July.
Bendik and a handful of teammates participated in the May 19 Great Strides event at Oaks Park Amusement Park or donated gear to show their support. Along with the money generated at the local event, Team Gavin raised more than $30,000 nationwide.
“It’s good to see how the Timbers and the whole community in Portland came out and were full on behind us,” Bendik said. “It was awesome. The team is all pretty hyped about it, and we’re going to do it next year.”
Now in his third year as a professional and first in MLS, Bendik became heavily involved in fundraising his senior year at Clemson University when he began to spend more time with Gavin. That’s when he realized just what he goes through on a day-to-day basis.
“When you’re around him every day and see the amount of treatments he has to do just to keep his body healthy, and it’s amazing that these families are just so strong,” Bendik said. “They’re such strong people. It’s amazing because they have to wake up, 6 a.m., two hours of treatments, middle of the day another hour of treatments, come home from school for more treatment, another treatment at night.”
Bendik most recently saw Gavin during the Timbers’ recent month-long international break.
“I was kid-sitting, and I’m supposed to be taking care of him and he’s the one who wakes me up and says, ‘Hey Joe, we need to do my meds,’” Bendik said. “He’s ready to go. Eight years old and he could probably take care of himself by himself, hands down. That gives you the strength to keep going with it, seeing that he can take care of himself and see how energetic he is.”
Bendik said the importance of fundraising has been tangible. When Gavin was born, life expectancy for those with cystic fibrosis was 21 to 25 years. Now it’s 38 years, Bendik said.
“Which still isn’t enough, but still is a higher,” he said. “It just keeps getting better and better."
Bendik is hoping to draw on the excitement displayed during the Great Strides walk to plan a charity golf tournament in August. He’s also working with a local high school in the area on an alumni football game fundraiser. All of it with Gavin in mind.
"At this point we have such high hopes that we’re actually going to find [a cure], and it’s just those extra steps needed.”