Joshua Perry took out his iPhone and sent a handful of his closest teammates a group text. He asked them to drop everything for a little kid they’ve never met.
“I just need 30 seconds,” the Ohio State junior linebacker said. “Whatever you’re doing; make me a video clip.”
That’s it. That’s all. Thirty seconds for a leukemia-stricken boy 1,000 miles away. Thirty seconds for a family yearning to make another sobering trip to the hospital a little less sterile.
Thirty seconds to help a stomach ache pang less. Thirty seconds to throw together a grainy cell phone video.
Thirty seconds to briefly make something as wicked as cancer a little less devastating.
“He just wants to hear from some Buckeyes and it’ll make his day,” Perry said. “We got a lot of good guys and they dropped what they were doing immediately in order to make a message.”
Thirty seconds for the smallest and simplest of tokens.
But it’s hard to measure how much it meant.
Fourteen hours away in an emergency room in Orlando, a flood of videos started pouring into Jeremy Chambers’ phone.
One by one, he sent them to his 4-year-old son Joshua — a beaming, vibrant and sick little boy — who, thanks to his father’s Perrysburg, Ohio, roots, has fallen in love with Ohio State.
“I would forward them from my phone to Joshua’s iPad and he’d get a message and it would pop and he’d say 'It’s another Buckeye!’” Chambers said.
“The way we did it by sending them over to his iPad one at a time he was like ‘Oh another one and another one!’"
The first snippet was from Perry, the orchestrator of the deed: “Get well, be brave. We’re pulling for you man.”
Then there was one from sophomore linebacker Darron Lee: “Be brave and be strong, man. You’re gonna get through it, man. You’re gonna keep fighting.”
Next was Raekwon McMillan, a freshman linebacker and one of the nation’s finest recruits: "Get well, Joshua. Be brave."
After that was a message from a car filled with senior linebacker Curtis Grant, junior linebacker Devan Bogard and senior cornerback Doran Grant.
"We hope you get better, man. Be brave...for the Buckeyes," Curtis Grant said in a bellowing, baritone voice.
Finally there was a message from Craig Fada, a walk-on junior linebacker:
“Everything’s gonna be all right bud."
Because it has to be, right?
Joshua Chambers is an adorable, vivacious and buoyant embodiment of life.
His favorite movie is “Despicable Me.” He loves school. He loves reading. He loves the Buckeyes and, since it’s his mother’s favorite team, he loves the Florida Gators too.
His smile is contagious and his laughter is infectious.
He's a "mini adult," his mom, Mina Chambers, said.
“He loves to perform for people, he loves to tell jokes to people like to make them laugh. He loves to be the life of the party, he loves to be the attention of everything," she said.
"If you look through his pictures, very rarely is he not smiling.”
“He was like the healthiest child. He’s so full of life. Always smiling. If you look through his pictures, very rarely is he not smiling.”
It applies to snapshots before and after Feb. 28, 2013 — the day Joshua was was diagnosed with high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“As soon as I heard that it was like shock” Mina said. “It was like I wasn’t there but I was listening and the doctor was talking to me and I was talking back, but it was a fog.
"Then it hits you the next morning where he went in for his biopsy. We broke down.”
Because no kid should have to go through something as destructive and appalling as cancer.
“It’s probably the worst thing you could have a child experience,” Mina said.
“You don’t want to see a child hurt, you don’t want to see them crying … and you’re supposed to be protecting him and you’re pleading to god like, ‘Why not me god? Why him?’”
After going through a brutal, but successful, year of chemotherapy, Joshua is beating cancer, but not yet victorious.
The road ahead is still long and winding. With the Chambers, though, the light shining at the end of it all remains impeccably bright. With a kid like Joshua, how could it not?
It was earlier this spring when Georgette Perry approached her son about the Chambers and little Joshua after work one day at Walnut Creek Elementary school in Galena, Ohio.
“One of the teachers in the building told her about Joshua and she said, ‘Hey they’re big Buckeye fans,” Joshua Perry said.
On a subsequent visit to the elementary school, the teacher — a childhood friend of Jeremy Chambers and supporter of the cause named Jana Covert — told him little Joshua's story and gave him a helping of wristbands that read “Joshua 1:9.”
The Biblical verse reads:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
For the Chambers, it’s more than a piece of scripture; it’s a pillar to lean on each and every day on this tumultuous journey.
“When he was first going to get his very first bone marrow biopsy, I was just like, ‘Be brave. Be brave buddy,” Mina said. “We thumbs up’d each other and then later on we found the verse in the Bible which pretty much sums up the whole be brave, be courageous thing.”
It’s a passage that serves as a rallying cry for the thousands who have liked little Joshua’s Facebook page, too.
“That was his thing: tell him to be brave every time he goes for a procedure when he has to be put to sleep or chemo,” Mina said. “It’s just like, ‘All right buddy, just be brave.’”
In the coming days and weeks after strapping his own bracelet on, Perry started passing them out to his Ohio State teammates. He did research. He reached out to the Chambers, specifically Jeremy.
In any capacity, he wanted to help. It’s nearly an obligation.
“It’s one of those things where some of the guys who aren’t from Columbus don’t necessarily understand how just being a Buckeye and the small interactions you make with people can actually make their day when they’re going through something tough,” Perry, a Lewis Center native and Olentangy High School graduate, said.
“If somebody says, ‘Hey, there’s somebody who wants to meet you, there’s somebody who wants to see you. They’re going through a rough time’ and all I need to do is just be a person they can talk to, if they want to see my face, if they want me to wear their wristband and tell their story and get to know them a little bit, it’s the least I can do.”
Perry is what happens when someone with such a powerful and transcendent platform becomes fully cognizant of it. It's a position limited to neither football nor sports, but, playing linebacker for Ohio State provides Perry a forum to touch scores of people whether it's an autograph, a letter or a smile.
"When you’re a Buckeye, you have almost an obligation to Columbus and to Buckeye Nation."
“It just goes back to being from around the area and knowing a lot about the Buckeyes. In Ohio, we’re a bigger brand than professional teams at times,” he said. “When you’re a Buckeye, you have almost an obligation to Columbus and to Buckeye Nation to be a stand-up citizen, a good person and to represent Ohio State well.”
It’s the same feeling of duty that impels his bond with the Chambers.
“He is just such an incredible person. You hear so many negative stories coming out of college sports about athletes and he’s just not that,” Jeremy said. “He’s a genuine, legit guy.”
So when little Joshua needed to go to the hospital because of an upset stomach and fever a little less than two weeks ago, Perry breathed life into those words by helping orchestrate a flurry of video messages for a sick kid in the hospital who he's never met.
"But I talk to his dad all the time and he’ll send me pictures and videos and for a kid who’s going through so much in his life, he always has a smile on his face it seems like," Perry said.
"He’ll send me a video of him playing in the backyard in the sprinklers, he’ll be wearing a Superman shirt, an Ohio State shirt or something and every time I see him he’s got a smile on his face."
How could you not smile, too?
“It reflects as much to who Joshua Perry is an individual and as an athlete as it does on Joshua Chambers and his personality and his ability to inspire people,” Jeremy said.
Yes, snippets of Perry and a sampling of other Ohio State players wishing him well might as well mean the world to a 4-year-old kid fighting a grave battle so many lose each year.
But Joshua is having a profound effect on Perry and the Buckeyes too.
“If I was going through something like that at such a young age,” Perry said, “I really don’t know how I’d be able to deal with it the way that he was and it’s literally amazing to see that.”
A platform gave Joshua Perry power. A sickness — for all its wretchedness — gave Joshua Chambers a platform.
“We get messages from adult cancer patients saying, ‘Well, if Joshua can go through chemo then I’m gonna go through chemo without complaining.’ We have people that are like, ‘I wanted to give up on chemo but I see Joshua keep going so I’m going to be brave too and keep going,’” Mina said.
“He is touching people’s lives and he’s four. It’s just amazing. I think it’s the purity of a child that can touch an adult human’s heart.”
Consider Perry and Ohio State among the many within Joshua's reach.
“You watch him, he inspires you. He gives you the courage, he’ll give you hope. Like to him, the pain hurts and the nausea sucks and he goes through it but then it’s over. He throws up, it’s done," Mina said.
“The sick feeling is gone. Let’s go play.”
Author’s note: Jeremy and Mina Chambers have started the Be Brave Foundation to provide financial assistance to families with a child battling cancer. You can check out their website here or follow it on Twitter here.