A once in a lifetime experience only comes along, well, not very often. Such was the situation I found myself in over the past five months. Thanks to the generosity and philanthropy of Volvo US, I was one of 16 people that got to participate in The Biggest Fan of the Big East contest. The newly redesigned Naughty S60 was the theme of the crusade and provided me one of the most wonderful sports-related memories, as well as a lifetime memory that transcends basketball, sports, and material things.
Everything began with an e-mail in September with an offer to participate in the program. They were contacting sports bloggers from the various Big East schools looking for participants. All they needed was some personal info about my social networking venues, Facebook, twitter, Youtube, etc. After a little skepticism on my part, I followed through on that request. Next was an offer from them to fly me round trip to the Mecca of college basketball, New York City, to attend Big East Media Day, the preliminary festivity to kick off the men’s basketball season. Thrown in was an accommodation at the beautiful New Yorker Hotel, practically right across the street from Madison Square Garden. A day observing the coaches, players, and media in MSG topped the day off. I got to take my first trip to The Big Apple and see some sights, including the Empire State Building and Times Square. The city was electric because the ALCS was in town.
The next part of the experience was entitled “My Alma Mater Weekend.” Each digital influencer received two tickets to one regular season game at their respective schools. We’re not talking about going to watch the Cards play the Southern New Mexico Sisters of the Poor, though. They hooked me up with a trip to see arguably the biggest rivalry in college basketball, the Cards versus the Cats.
Volvo put my wife and me up in The Brown Hotel – the most extravagant, historic, luxurious hotel in Louisville and chipped in some spending money to boot. We wined and dined at Ruth Chris Steakhouse on their dime and treated ourselves to the best steak around. We toured the city and I got to see people and places dear to me the night before the game.
As I mentioned earlier, the contest was premised around their redesigned S60. We dropped by Volvo of Louisville and picked up a brand new, sleek, all-wheel-drive, 300 horsepower chariot for the weekend. It is absolutely the finest automobile I have ever had the privilege to drive. And we toured my city in style.
There have been all sorts of goodies arriving in the mailbox and on the front porch throughout the season so far, as well. Shirts, hats, pins, even a super-deluxe road safety kit assembled by the folks at Volvo, which is appropriate because they are known worldwide for their exemplary record on safety when it comes to automobiles.
I’ve gotten to write about some interesting topics over the course of the season and have had an engaging experience keeping up with the other bloggers and our competition. The twitter feeds and other blogs have been a blast to keep up with and really have immersed me even more deeply in the college basketball experience, which I never would have thought was possible. My wife has even become a bigger basketball fan. She would follow the Cards with me, but now she tries to keep up with the rest of the conference and the unfolding during the season. Wonderful sports-related memories all season long.
Trips, prizes, spending monies. Still not enough for you?
Just when you think I’m wrapping up, there’s still more generosity up their sleeve. Volvo will be donating $10,000 to the school of the winning blogger. That’s good for a scholarship for some deserving soul or two out there somewhere. The top blogger gets a trip to the Big East Tournament in March, as well. And to top everything off, the winning digital influencer will be the recipient of a brand new Naughty S60. Pretty sweet, eh?
If you’re still with me and not rushing out to your local Volvo dealer to see how to be a contestant in the future, you still haven’t heard the most personal and touching part of the story.
Last April, my family of six was struck with a tragedy almost overnight that has been our primary focus for almost the last year. My daughter, Mackenzie, was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis, a debilitating, crippling spinal cord infection that left her paralyzed from the chest down. She went from a bouncy, bubbly, very independent, energetic 8-year-old little girl to a disheartened, frustrated dependent in a wheelchair. She has been our focus for the last ten months. My wife has had to provide round-the-clock care for her since they got home from rehab in May, mixed in with a couple of other trips to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital because of relapses. With my wife as the primary caretaker for her, I have relegated myself to supporting her/them as best I can. I work all day and my wife travels back and forth to Mackenzie’s school almost hourly for necessary care during the school day. All of this has put a strain on our finances because my wife has had to postpone her final semester of college and is not able to start her passion, teaching English, as of yet. I hadn’t been able to treat myself since Mackenzie got sick and my wife strong-armed me into jumping into this contest and insisted that I got to New York in October. I almost didn’t go, due to feeling guilty for being so far away.
What touched me the most during this experience were not the bright lights of New York City (although still very impressive), the round trip flights, Madison Square Garden, big rivalry games, the luxury sports car, the extravagant accommodations, or even the little plastic gift cards used for per diems. The consideration for my family volunteered by the good folks at Volvo has been the Godsend. When they offered to send a driver to pick us up for the UL-UK game, I had to explain that we would probably be more comfortable driving up in my own van, due to all the logistics that are involved in traveling with a special needs child and a one year old. Volvo countered that with an offer for an extra room at the hotel (remember, the nicest hotel in the city-not cheap) so that we could leave the kids in the hands of trusted family members while we experienced my Alma Mater Weekend in the Naughty S60 (it’s got great trunk space, just not enough for our entourage :)). We could fully enjoy the lavish weekend without having to worry the whole time about the kids. My daughter loved staying in the hotel, and it was great to see her smiling and enjoying the taste of luxury and seeing loved ones dear to her that she hadn’t seen in a while.
This whole contest has gotten to be a sort of escape for me, and even my family, at times. That has been the best and most memorable to me. If I win the car or not, a lifetime of memories, enjoyments, and smiles have been realized throughout the whole experience and because of the generosity of Volvo, I never look at another Volvo again and not get all warm and fuzzy inside. “Thank you” is nowhere near sufficient.