When Mike Tomlin visits Baltimore, his usual goal is to beat the Ravens.
Tomlin returned to the city last night but in a mission to defeat cancer, not another football team.
At first glance, that may seem a little unusual. But his journey is for a terrific cause with a equally fantastic backstory.
Last night, the There Goes My Hero Foundation held their annual dinner in downtown Baltimore. And the Steelers’ head coach was happy to show his support.
“I have a personal relationship with Nester and Jenn and have for the last nine years,” he told Ravens.com. “Anytime someone close to you gets presented with this challenge, you get the chance to walk the journey with them, even from afar, I think you’re moved to act.”
Tomlin is referring to Nestor and Jenn Aparicio. Nestor is a vibrant sports personality in Baltimore who met Tomlin at the Owner’s Meetings right after he was hired to be the Steelers’ new head coach. The two shared a close relationship, though one predictably filled with good-natured ribbing as part of the rivalry.
Jenn was diagnosed with leukemia in March of 2014. It led Tomlin to become even more involved in the couple’s life, offering support whenever he could. Nestor recounts the time they shared together in his #GiveASpit baseball road trip, a visit to all 30 ballparks while spreading awareness for leukemia. Last June, Tomlin personally picked the couple up at the airport, took them to a Pirates’ game, and even rode the Incline with them, the first time Tomlin had done so since the 8th grade.
Jenn received a bone marrow transplant and after a grueling recovery period in the hospital, has made an excellent recovery with no complications.
Nestor invited Tomlin to last night’s event and the head coach responded quickly.
“Tomlin text me back immediately: “’I’m two feet in…’”
And so Tomlin was in attendance last night, talking about his family with John Harbaugh – not football because in Tomlin’s words, “we don’t want to lie to each other” – and hearing some probably familiar words from Ravens’ fans earlier in the day. For Tomlin, that taunting was all worth the experience.
“The rivalry is an intense one. People care passionately about it. I’m humbled and honored to be apart of it. If we can get an opportunity to use it in a positive way to shed light on something that’s enormous like this, it really gives you a positive perspective on what sports can do.”
I spent a good half hour reading up on the background on Tomlin’s relationship with the Aparicio’s and there are so many good nuggets on information to share. I don’t want to just copy and paste everything but I’ll pass along the links to some highly recommended reading.
This is Nestor’s article on the event, with the small nugget of Tomlin’s inclusion.
The link to this article thoroughly explains the relationship Tomlin has with the couple. An absolute must read.
And this Sports Illustrated feature piece also tells their story, with the link leading to the page about Tomlin.
For more information on the There Goes My Hero Foundation, click here.
Tomlin is a football coach and is rightfully judged and thought of in that scope here and around Steelers’ Nation. That doesn’t change. But hearing stories like this, and all the rest connected to him, it’s hard to find a better person, and leader, than Mike Tomlin.