Brandon's Blog: Thanking a Friend by Giving Back
Ian Makowske

Nov. 20, 2012

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

Every time Michigan gymnast Ian Makowske entered the realm of competitive gymnastics, he was not only thinking of his routines, representing Michigan and his family, he was thinking about high school friend Mikey Friedman.

Friedman wasn't a top athlete; in fact he wasn't an athlete at all. He was just a 15-year-old freshman at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Conn., when he was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive stomach cancer. This young man's time on Earth was limited. The majority of Mikey's time in high school was spent in the hospital. He missed two and a half years of school. He went through two major surgeries, seven rounds of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and radiation therapy. When his graduation day came, Friedman was the valedictorian.

He went on to Harvard's medical school and published essays in medical journals. Not only did he write, he was musician, a poet and an optimist. That in itself is quite inspirational. He died in October 2008.

Makowske, now the administrative assistant with the U-M men's gymnastics team, stuck with his friend, and by doing so, he learned more than he ever expected. He learned what selflessness was all about. He found out that when someone displays the unique character of giving to others when the individual him or herself is in need of aid, you reevaluate your own goals. What struck Makowske was Friedman's sense of optimism and giving.

Friedman's family found a helping a hand with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. As Mikey lay in his hospital bed, he had the opportunity to check off anything he could think of pertaining to his own personal bucket list. A shopping spree, meeting a famous person, or going to Disney were all just one phone call away. Instead of thinking of himself, he thought of what he had been going through, and his wish was to help others who were less fortunate.

In the hospital he was bored. He was cut off from family and friends. He passed the time by playing video games and watching DVDs. He asked Make-A-Wish to provide video games and computer equipment and help improve hospital entertainment facilities for those who could not afford these items. His wish was to make it better for others who would have to go through long hospital stays and face the same finish line he was going to have to cross, and thus the Mikey's Way Foundation was started.

Makowske talked about Friedman throughout his competitive career. He talked about selflessness, optimism and aiding others who are less fortunate. In essence, he was team building. It was also how the Wolverine men's gymnastics team jumped into action.

In Makowske's senior year of U-M competition, he brought together the Wolverine team, the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) , the Michigan Athletic Marketing Department and many other student organizations on campus to hold an electronics drive for Mikey's Way on the final night of the regular season. It was Senior Night 2011 when the team and all the student groups worked their magic for Mikey's Way. Students and fans donated video games and other computer equipment to make the night a complete success.

This was not the end of involvement for Makowske and U-M gymnastics. Makowske still has the competitive drive, and what better way to combine his love for gymnastics and Mikey's Way than to create Team Mikey's Way, allowing Makowske to help promote the foundation while competing at various events wearing a Mikey's Way uniform.

Makowske has now traded his maize and blue uniform for blue and white as he competes in Las Vegas, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Colorado Springs and the other events around the country. After the competition, he is given 10 to 15 minutes to talk about Mikey Friedman and Mikey's Way. This is his 'wow' experience. It is Makowske's way to keep his friend's legacy alive. It is his way to help inspire others and aid individuals who need help.

Makowske has worked to provide goodwill for others. Not only is it a great message for his team he now helps, it is an ideal we should all entertain. As we celebrate Thanksgiving and give thanks for our blessings, it is also important that we think of how we can help others.

The Michigan Athletics Department team is thankful for what we have and we are also thankful we have coaches, student-athletes and team members who take the extra step to serve others who are less fortunate.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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