Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Q&A with former Syracuse punter Rob Long

For those who haven't heard about Rob Long, the former Syracuse punter who found out he had a brain tumor while playing at Syracuse, I had the opportunity to ask him several questions about his fight against cancer.  Rob is an amazing individual who was looking at death square in the eyes and beat it.

Rob is currently pursuing an opportunity to kick in the NFL and I am fortunate to have connected with him for this blog.

1) What were your first thoughts and emotions when you found out you had a brain tumor? In your video you said there was a 'wave' of emotions you couldn't describe. Can you describe them now?

I still don't know that I can put it all in to words. I was mostly just scared of the unknown that came along with having a brain tumor. It wasn't until the following day I realized how big the tumor was, about the size of a tennis ball,  that I really thought I did not have much time left on this earth. At 21 that can be a terrorizing feeling and one that I will never forget. 

2) Was there a period of 'denial' or did you accept this from the outset? Did you think your chances of playing in the NFL were gone, or did that even cross your mind at the time?

I don't know it was as much denial as it was just stubbornness. I refused to let this bring me down after how hard I worked to achieve the level of success that I was able to attain at Syracuse. I believed at first, before I found out it was cancerous, it would be just getting surgery and once it was out I would be good to go in 3-4 weeks and that obviously was not the case. Once I was given the "You have cancer" talk from the doctors I knew this was going to be a long drawn out battle and it was going to take a tremendous amount of work and dedication to get back to where I wanted to be. The goal of playing in the NFL never left my sights. 

3) What was the reaction of those closest to you? How did your parents handle it? How did your girlfriend handle it? How did your friends handle it?

As you can imagine, it was really really tough on everyone. My mother lost her father when she was 7 to brain cancer so this disease is something she is all too familiar with. I think with everyone, Mom and Dad especially, there was an initial state of shock and then a stage of, holy crap, then "well it is what is and we have to do what ever we can to get you (me) healthy".  My girlfriend, Jacqueline, has been tremendous. It takes a special person to stand by someone going through what I went through when you are only 21 years old and dating for little over two years. The easy thing to do would have been just to walk away and have me get treated and just kind of see how things went but she stood right next to me the whole time, all the appointments, check ups, and everything. I m very thankful for that.

My friends were awesome. they did what they did best and that was just to be themselves and not to treat me any different. Always were there for support and just to make me laugh when I needed it most. I firmly believe I have some of the best friends in the world.

4) Did you have a strong support group from the start? Did it grow? Was it important? Why?

I had a tremendous suport system from the start and it seemed to grow everyday. The Syracuse community stepped up in such a huge way to support me it was incredibly humbling to see people take time out of their hard earned day and just send me a note of encouragement. The support was so important to me because it showed that people cared and that they wanted to help and to me that was a beautiful thing. 

The most wonderful part of all of it was coming home each day from chemo and radiation and going to the mail box and seeing that there were cards in there for me to tell me to just keep pressing on and that has brought me a long way. 

5) You say in your video you are always trying to 'perfect' the art of kicking a football. Did this attitude play into your efforts to fight the cancer? If so, how?

I think the work ethic that I have towards football was huge. I was always driven to be successful at punting and I had to switch gears and my new goal was to be successful at beating cancer which no one in my family had successfully battled before.  However, we now have 3 happy and healthy cancer survivors in the family. 

6) How did your dream of wanting to play professional football impact your attitude about your illness? Did it frustrate you? Sadden you? Motivate you?

I would be lying if I said it was never frustrating because it most definitely has been. However, I have used it as a motivation to make it to the NFL. I know that once I get to the NFL, I will know I have accomplished my goals while having been diagnosed with something that most people don't survive. There is a great deal of motivation to get to that point. 

7) During your time of illness and treatment, did you ever lose your dream of playing in the NFL? If not, why?

No, never. Its been difficult but I will continue to pursue the NFL as long as I can. Its been my dream since I was a boy. 

8) You say in your video that it has been frustrating to try and work your way back to the level of kicking you were at before the cancer. Are you seeing progress? How to you feel about your level now?

I feel great about where I am physically and mentally. I have seen a tremendous amount of progress from when I started this journey of relearning the mechanics and now I am at a point were I want get with a team and working with a professional long snapper so I can find that rhythm that I had in college. But I think today post cancer me  would crush college me in a punting contest. 

9) Whether you play professional football or not, do you see yourself as an inspiration to others? Do you want to be seen as an inspiration to others? If so, in what way?

I just did what I had to do to keep living. I was faced with some adversity and I am just trying to do my best each day to get through it. There are people all around the world that are much worse off than I was. You can only play the cards you are dealt and that is all I have done.  

10) How has your perspective changed on life since this event? You're pretty young, and you've faced something few people of your age have to face. How has that impacted your perspective on life? On your future?

Having cancer at a young age has been a blessing in disguise. I am glad I had it, I am glad I have beaten it. But it has taught me so much about keeping everything in life in perspective. I really am able to enjoy my loved ones and everyday I have with them because I learned that tomorrow is never guaranteed.

11) What would you say to other young individuals who are facing a similar challenge? What advice would you give them?

I feel what helped me most was having a goal. I have had the goal of getting to the NFL from the outset of everything and that gave me something to strive for. It was a reason to get out of bed and go to treatment and then go to the gym, even though I was physically and mentally exhausted. It kept a special fire burning inside of me that I knew I had an end goal. 

12) Would you like to add anything?

Dear All 32 NFL Teams,

Will one of you please hire me, you will never regret it.

Thank you for your precious time,


Bonus Questions:

1) If you could play for an NFL team, who would you want to play for?

I have always been an Eagles fan from birth so that would be cool but at this point  I am looking for a job so I will go become the biggest fan of whatever team gives me an opportunity. 

2) Does your girlfriend think you look better with, or without, hair?

You would have to ask her, my guess is with hair. I'll have plenty of time to be bald after 50.

Please be sure to check out Rob's video below.