It was exciting to learn that this year the NFL’s program My Cause, My Cleats would include the Diabetes Research Institute as Raven’s Tight End, Maxx Williams, would wear custom-made cleats recognizing the work of the DRI scientists. This program allows NFL players to wear custom cleats in December. In fact, many, many players take part and usually auction off the cleats to raise money for the charities they represent. Quite a few diabetes organizations were represented in the NFL this year (Branden Jackson/ADA; Jarvis Jenkins/JDRF to name just two) and social media got into sharing so many of their stories.
As is the nature of social media, one never knows where a simple post will continue. One story, and a video in particular, really caught on. Interestingly enough, it was not a story about a football player, it was about a professional cheerleader. As the
My Cause, My Cleats was being unleashed, The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (DCC) were releasing an effort of their own called My Cause, My Boots.
And how social media responded. And how the diabetes community cheered the loudest.
As any football fan will tell you, ‘dem boots worn by the Cowboys Cheerleaders’ are as much known as the Dallas Star that is worn on the team’s helmet. Run a little differently, DCC’s My Cause, My Boots is more about the cause than a particular organization and I was given the incredible opportunity to interview a member of the DCC who, as it would turn out, has a very special reason to discuss diabetes, and to take it from the sidelines to center stage.
Tess, thank you for taking the time to discuss your choice to use the DCC platform to bring awareness to type 1 diabetes. How long have you been a DCC?
Tess: I have been a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader for the past 3 years.
As I prepared for this interview, I learned that Tess was actually a dancer through all of her life and to me, what being a Radio City Rockette is to those who dance, a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader is to those who have ever cheered. It’s the icon for perfection in the industry.
Did all of the history play into your mind as you worked to become a DCC, how so?
Tess: I never actually cheered BEFORE cheering for the Dallas Cowboys. I was on dance teams, but not cheerleading. I danced all through college at LSU and in fact my first Dancing was at a LSU football game which was in the Dallas Stadium, coincidentally.
Yes it did play into my mind. You’re in the stadium. But it was more exciting than it was intimidating. When I ‘did get the call’ (to be a DCC) being back in the same place it all started, and in this new and different role, was certainly a moving experience.
It’s no secret there is just so much outreach in communities all across the country with NFL Programs. One, in particular is My Cause, My Cleats where players wear cleats adorned with their favorite charity in a special design. DCC came up with My Cause, My Boots? Of course My Cause, My Cleats is a close relative to My Cause, My Boots…..can you share how the idea came about for the boots?
Tess: My Cause, My Boots came about, and as far as I know we are the first team which started last year with the boots. It was just an idea. We started by trading out one pink ‘star’ for one blue star on our vest and we had a pink star on our boot; and our directors thought it would be an incredible idea for us to choose our own causes. And they worked with Lucchese Bootmaker, the official bootmaker for the Cheerleading Team, on what we could do with our boots for a cause close to each of us. We had a pink star that first year and in the second year the thought was how to expand that original idea, and what else could we do with the star. So, we gave them our cause and Lucchese Bootmaker was very creative in utilizing just that one star to not include various charities but also to be individualized to represent so many charities with so many different and unique designs. They did all sorts of different ideas. I chose diabetes and sent them the ribbon with the blue and gray colors with the blood drop seen in so many places and that is all I did. Their hugely creative team came back with the little red heart in the corner of the star. Simple, direct, and powerful. So yes, we were the first team I believe to do something like this, we can only hope it spreads and more cheerleaders get involved.
Tom: When I first saw it, I actually sighed because it was very clear what it represented. The phrase ‘Deep in the heart of Texas’ took on a whole new meaning.
Tess: Oh good, I am glad it was clear.
You did this for Troy, your boyfriend. Could you share those series of events?
Tess: Troy and I met in December 2016 and he was diagnosed in September of the same year. I was not there; the hardest and worst time at diagnosis…but since we met I have gone through this progression of being by his side. I’m a big animal lover and last year I chose Animal Rescue as my charity as I have a cat I rescued. This year, many of the team members chose to honor people they knew living with different diseases and I thought it would be a nice honor, a nice gesture, for Troy if I chose diabetes. I thought it would be a nice surprise for Troy. Again, I had no idea what the design would look like. I never mentioned it, I never spoke to Troy about it. He never knew about it until the boots were made.
Could you share a little of his reaction.
Tess: We all picked the causes in September, and did not know what the final result would be. About a week before we received the boots, I shared with him, ‘Remember last year when I picked purple for Animal Rescue for my boots as a cause, this year I wanted you to know that I chose type 1 diabetes for you’.
It was a very special moment and we both became pretty emotional. He was shocked, he couldn’t believe it. They surprised us when the boot came and I rushed home and opened the box and it means a lot to me that you said you knew right away what it meant. It was a very special moment when I saw the boots for the first time. He was very excited, took pictures and sent them to his family. It truly was just very special. What I liked about it was that it was more about awareness of the disease as oppose to linking to a specific organization. It was about honoring someone you know, someone who has the disease, and supporting THEM; and that was an incredible feeling.
So now, it’s out there. The My Cause, My Cleats is out there and so is My Cause, My Boots. You make your awareness video and the social media explodes. What started as a simple gesture…..‘bam’ it goes everywhere…..what was that like?
Tess—I quickly realized, as I expected it to be, that it was going to be more than just a simple gesture. Taking advantage of the platform I know that I have, that we all had being part of the DCC, and being able to reach more people and especially just to be a light to this whole community was overwhelming. Last year the idea of My Cause, My Boots was new. This year we had more media and people were expecting it. My cause was highlighted by an accompanying video. People were already sharing stories and reaching out to me saying they saw that I chose type 1 diabetes even before the boot, as a finished product, was being shown. So, I knew from the get-go that this was going to be so much more than just me wearing a different color, or something different, on my boot. I knew that it was going to reach a lot of people because this community is just so strong. And because they lean so much on each other for support. I have seen this before, I have seen this with Troy. It’s a big thing to know others are out there and to also know you are not going through this alone.
I saw your video as you spoke about Troy and what he goes through with his t1d. Being a father to two children with this disease, it was very moving. Could you expand a little bit on what you see him go through, he’s an athlete……right?
Tess: Yes. He plays baseball and played at LSU. And played before he was diagnosed. He was always an athlete and he was playing and also having type 1 diabetes before anyone caught it. Maybe they thought he was too old so no one checked, no one is sure why, for whatever reason; he went on struggling with it without him knowing and without others knowing what it was. He went to many doctors. It took one really bad episode where his blood sugar topped out over 800 for everyone to realize what was going on. He was 22 when he was diagnosed. He quickly handled it. He got this (his management) to where he could play. Late diagnosis, but early enough. And he played then, and he is playing still.
Tom–After him sharing all of that with you, what would you say to someone who was newly diagnosed?
Tess: I’m surely no expert at this but as I prepared to make the video, and learned what I needed and saw the video that I made had over 70,000 views, it just highlighted to me how much more I need to know and educate myself so I can figure out how to educate others. As I learned from Troy, and I know you know Tom, I know it’s not my disease. I can only do so much. It’s Troy’s disease. I can do just so much but what I can do is be there, offer words of encouragement. I’ve seen him struggle with it but I also have seen him come out the other side and truly follow his dreams. He keeps going. We all see others succeed, even doing so with what burdens they have to bear having this disease. Those stories uplift him. He’s now one who can inspire others. He is the perfect example that you can keep going, it does not matter….you can do whatever you want. He says, “The less you control it, the harder it is to control”.
My saying is that you must control it, or it will surely control you.
Tess—That’s a good one too, I have to share that with him.
(I laugh) Yeah but I have 26+ years at this…..he surely learned much faster than I did as a parent. I’ve had a few more years at it for sure.
Now that you have started this, do you see yourself continuing advocating, helping, etc.?
Tess: Short answer, yes. But I have so much more to know. When I started this, I knew I had to become educated and I know I have to do more to understand what this disease is about. I knew of this disease. I knew there was a difference between type 1 and type 2. But living beside someone who lives with it 24 hours a day is different. I gained a new appreciation. To know…..just……just how near death Troy must have been, was terrifying. That’s something that was new to me. Something that I did not know was going on. I think that in itself is enough to bring awareness and I hope to raise resources to share that story because it’s incredibly powerful. Maybe it can prevent someone from going through what he went through. Maybe if they hear the story, they will see and know the symptoms whether it was a child, or an adult. Even if someone says, “I heard something like this and do you think it might be diabetes”? Even that would be an incredible start. To educate. I mean I have seen already, hearing ‘My child, my dad, my whomever…….’ is just so amazing to create a connection. So yes, I will continue on this path and I know it’s a dream of Troy’s because he knows how important it was that people helped him.
Your video was spot on and resonated with many people.
Tess: I tried to stay focused on the person I knew and not try so hard to explain every aspect of the disease…it’s complicated and it means a lot to hear that we were close to the mark.
As I said—spot on the mark, if you ask me.
Tess: Thank you that is good to hear.
As my readers know, I like to end my interviews by giving a word or short statement, and ask you to share the first thing that pops into your head, either one word or short phrase. Is that okay?
Dallas, the City.
Tess: That wonderful skyline
Dallas, the Team?
Tess: Represented by Cowboy Hats.
A newly diagnosed child?
Tess: Thank you for setting this up. This is the reason for My Boots, My Cause and I hope this can continue and I appreciate the opportunity.
It’s very clear that this incredible couple will be heard from again, and again, and again in the future on this new journey. A journey for diabetes awareness. They will save lives as they continue to use their respective platforms to educate those who might not even know what diabetes is, what diabetes looks like, or even what the warning signs might be.
Saving a life, methinks, would be better than even winning a Superbowl.
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