Rocky Bleier, left, served as the keynote speaker for the dinner and auction which honored Parker Inks.
GIBSONBURG, Ohio — Parker Inks doesn't hesitate to tell his story, and he doesn't hesitate to convey his message of personal strength and perseverance. Furthermore, he's fully aware of the fact that because of him, his family and friends are reaching out not only to help others, but to tell his story.
Friday at Ole Zim's Wagon Shed, a four-time Super Bowl champion and decorated military veteran added a chapter to Inks' story by telling his own, one based on overcoming adversity and utilizing hope.
Rocky Bleier, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and who is now a motivational speaker, served as the keynote speaker for the Parker's Purpose Dinner and Auction, which drew more than 350 family members, friends, teammates, and classmates of Inks, as well as community members and, yes, Steelers fans.
And while Steelers fans surrounded Bleier - some tried on his four Super Bowl rings, while others posed for photos and asked for autographs - the focus of the day was on Inks, a sixth-grader from Fremont who has muscular dystrophy and the inspiration for Parker's Purpose, a charity that assists the families of special-needs children.
"If I can be a conduit to help people, to make this a special occasion and to hopefully touch someone's life, that's what makes this worth it," Bleier said. "What a better way to see this unfold, have a community come together and support one another."
Parker's Purpose hosted its fourth annual dinner and auction, which has showcased guest speakers such as Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard and former Ohio State and NFL standout Chris Spielman.
"Each of our keynote speakers have brought a different story or a different inspiration," said Todd Drusbeck, the football coach at Rossford who spearheaded Parker's Purpose. "That's what Parker has taught us and that's how Parker has inspired all of us."
Parker's Purpose came to fruition more than four years ago, when Drusbeck was the football coach at Fremont St. Joseph. He asked Inks to be the ball boy for the team,, and Inks delivered a motivational message prior to every game.
In March of 2008, Inks was hospitalized for more than a month because of a respiratory infection and a collapsed lung. At the same time, his mother, Patti, was diagnosed with cancer. Drusbeck rallied members of the school and Fremont community to raise money to help Inks, and realized he not only could help one family, but with the help of the community, he could reach out and help families by spearheading the nonprofit foundation. In more than four years, Parker's Purpose has raised more than $63,000 for more than 100 families in Northwest Ohio.
Seeing how a community rallied around one of it's own appealed to Bleier, who makes from 60 to 70 speaking appearances a year.
"If you look at Parker, at Parker's Purpose, it's all about what they're able to do," Bleier said. "At a time when we might be struggling, or when there's a certain sense of entitlement, you see people coming together to help someone else. This is what America's all about."
In his speech Friday, Bleier spoke of having the will to continue and not to quit, and emphasized the importance of having hope.
"My life was based on hope," he said, before discussing his childhood in Wisconsin, attending the University of Notre Dame as an undersized running back, being wounded in combat as a member of the U.S. Army, then being drafted by the Steelers - and being cut twice, even contemplating walking away from football.
And, he explained, each individual has the ability to impact one another, whether it's a positive or negative influence.
In his speech, Bleier told the story of being in a military hospital after undergoing surgery on both legs as a result of an injury suffered in combat in the Vietnam War. Each day, a triple amputee who was also wounded in combat passed him in the hospital, pushed on a wheelchair by nurses, and spent a few minutes conversing with Bleier.
"He chose to have a positive influence on people," Bleier said. "If he can do that, what about me?"
Inks summed up the message and his own story in his own words.
"You don't give up when things get tough," Inks said. "You get back up. You get back out there and you do something to affect not only yourself but other people around you."