Dusty Schrage has an incredible love of sports. He also has Down syndrome. He has made a beautiful connection with Stanford's star running back Christian MacCaffrey.
For McCaffrey, as a Heisman finalist last year and probable player in the running this year, it could be easy to get caught up in the fact that the college football world is watching, and noticing, his greatness.
But for him, football has become so much more than a Heisman trophy or the NFL Draft.
Whenever he’s back home in Denver, Colorado every summer, he participates in Dare to Play, a football camp started by Christian’s dad when he was a freshman in high school. Dare to Play is geared towards people with Down syndrome. The camp puts every camper through a week of practice and then allows them to put their abilities on display for their families and friends in a game that weekend.
McCaffrey has been all in since his dad started the camp, coaching the Blue Team summer after summer. One camper in particular bonded to McCaffrey through his John Cena “you can’t see me” impression. McCaffrey tells Tom Rinaldi in an ESPN interview that after he witnessed Dusty tackle a dummy and wave his hand right in the dummy’s face, they became best friends instantly:
He had the gloves, he had the touchdown celebrations, he had the whole deal. And seeing that and seeing how much joy he brought and how into the camp he was, that brought a light to me and I wanted to be around him.
Innocence and purity. As Dusty gives camp all he’s got, it’s clear to see: this camp, Christian McCaffrey and football brings Dusty so much joy. As Dusty said to ESPN, “I like to be a player.”
One of the great things that makes this camp and specifically Christian and Dusty’s bond so special, is that at the Dare to Play camp every summer, Christian McCaffrey is just Christian McCaffrey. He isn’t Christian McCaffrey the star, Christian McCaffrey the beast, Christian McCaffrey the unstoppable. No, to Dusty and all the other campers he’s just Christian their coach. And to Christian, they aren’t the people with Downs he “helps"; they’re his players on his team.
The special thing is, because of the common bond of football, Christian and these players can put their vast differences aside and just love on each other and love on their favorite game, playing it with all they have.
The power of sports. It’s incredible if you think about it.
Dusty tells people that Christian McCaffrey is his best friend, quoting further to ESPN, “I do love Christian McCaffrey.” And he means that wholeheartedly because it’s true. Through football, a college football great and a now 35-year-old man with Downs, have created an unbreakable bond.
“He would look me in the eyes, and he’s like ‘this is my favorite day of the year and every single year, I look forward to this.’ And when you hear that coming from him, it almost brings a tear to your eye because you kind of take a step back and realize that you really are having an impact on somebody.” - McCaffrey to Tom Rinaldi, ESPN interview
I have personally felt the inspiring love of sports from a boy across the street, David Burnes.
Put a basketball in Dave’s hands and he’ll dribble down court as fast as he can, holding up his fingers in the air, as if he was calling plays. Put a soccer ball at his feet and he’ll do all he can to score on anybody in his way. Give him a baseball bat and he’ll swing with all his might. Any jersey he wears, he wears with extreme pride.
David has Downs and a palpable love for sports. David is challenged in ways most people aren’t, but his love for sports ends up meaning and doing so much more for him while also impacting all those whom he comes into contact with. His brother, Tommy Burnes, 18, puts it in perspective perfectly. He tells Fresh U how playing sports brings joy not only to David but every single person that watches him play.
Sports allows David to shine in the spotlight. Playing the games he loves and being out there with all the other kids brings the biggest smile to not only his own face, but everyone in the crowd watching.
The joy it gives him is has been one of the biggest things in his life. Barbra Serros Burnes, his mother, let Fresh U in on what exactly the roar of the crowd has done for 15 year old David:
Sports has given David Burnes the intoxicating high that comes with being cheered for and celebrated! To have people chant his name and scream for him from the sidelines... well it's been one of the greatest joys in his life.
Because of sports, barriers have been broken. Because of sports, kids like David and Dusty are able to find a joy and confidence like no other. Because of sports, Christian McCaffrey is more than just a star running back every summer.
He’s a coach, a role model and a best friend.
Christian and Dusty: standing as a true testament to what sports can do at its best. It's more than the wins, losses, Heisman Trophies and NFL top picks. Its friendship, love, passion and happiness.
Sports changes the lives of mentally challenged kids everywhere.
Sports is a lot more powerful than people realize.
Sports is Christian McCaffrey and Dusty Schrage and David Burnes.
Tom Rinaldi and ESPN recently told their story in a great piece. Watch it here.