By Tom E. Curran
Tom Brady started volunteering with Best Buddies when he was 23, still driving an ugly yellow Jeep and able to go to Red Sox games regularly without being recognized.
He's 34 now. Stuff's changed.
But his commitment to Best Buddies has not.
This weekend, the annual Best Buddies Challenge will kick off Friday night with a touch football game at Harvard in which Brady will quarterback both teams. On Saturday, a bike ride to Hyannisport and post-ride barbeque will be held.
The aim of the program is simple. It promotes inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And Brady speaks eloquently about the cause.
"The kids, they love life and they're so excited for this particular weekend and you see the enjoyment they have in raising money for something that's important to them too," Brady said Tuesday. "They're creating awareness that they can contribute to what's going on in our world. And they can have jobs and they can have friends and they can have mentors and be a part of the community. So often, they live very lonely lives. When you're not mentally handicapped, it's easy to be part of a community. There's not the stigma that a lot of these young people and adults carry. This (program) is creating awareness that they are an important part of our community as well."
The tangential impact of the program felt by the parents is something that moves Brady as well.
"I look at the parents and I really admire them for the commitment that they make to their kids," said Brady. "The commitment that parents of children that are mentally handicapped or physically handicapped, it's such a credit to them because it's a 24-hour-a-day commitment to their kids. The enthusiasm they have in the lives of their kids - we all know our kids are everything to us - I'm so impressed by the parents."
Brady noted that some of his closest friends - former offensive coordinators Charlie Weis and Bill O'Brien, former players like Doug Flutie and Boomer Esiason - have children with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Brady also added that the commitment to the program is something he's looking forward to passing on to his sons, Jack and Benjamin, as they get a little older.
"I'm gonna be involved with Best Buddies for the rest of my life," said Brady. "There's rides in Washington, D.C., there's rides in California, there's obviously rides here and hopefully I'm a part of all of them. There's no doubt my boys will be right there with me."
If you're interested in going to the game, go here to register for your free tickets To make a donation, click here.
Said Brady, "You can't help but be touched by the enthusiasm of the Buddies and the parents and understand whatever small difference we're making, we're creating awareness and helping the lives of people that have had a hard time in their life based on circumstances that were uncontrollable to them."