May 29, 2014
By Joe Stapleton
Anna Schueler, a freshman on the University of Michigan women's lacrosse team, loved sports from a very young age. This was in no small part due to her brother, Henry, who was two years older than Anna. Henry encouraged her in playing sports and let her tag along with him and his friends as they played baseball, football and pretty much anything else requiring a ball and being outside.
So when it finally came time for Anna to play in her first organized basketball game, in the fifth grade, it was a big deal. It was a big deal to Henry too, so he showed up to cheer her on.
And he brought along his entire seventh-grade football team, which effectively formed its own cheering section.
"They filled the whole place, doing chants and things like that. He was pretty loud, yelling at the refs for no reason," Anna said. "That's probably my best memory of him because that kind of encapsulates all that he was. He was a really awesome, awesome brother."
Henry died in 2007 of a fungal infection resulting from treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 14 years old. After his death, his family started the Henry Schueler 41&9 foundation, named for his jersey numbers on his baseball and football teams.
As one of its fundraisers, the 41&9 Foundation embarks on an annual bike ride in Henry's honor. This year, Matt Schueler -- Henry and Anna's father -- will ride along with a group of volunteers from Wrigley Field in their native Chicago to Fenway Park in Boston. Anna biked 45 miles on Monday, finishing off the first day of biking with the group.
On Wednesday afternoon (May 28), the group took a pit stop in Ann Arbor and got to hang out on the field at Michigan Stadium. With Matt's daughter being a Michigan student-athlete, the stop on the way from Chicago to Boston was an obvious choice.
"Michigan has done some great things in terms of publicizing cancer awareness. They had a cancer awareness day on May 12 that the girls took part in," Matt said while standing on the block M at midfield on Wednesday. "When the opportunity came, I knew that every guy would obviously be thrilled to go to the Big House."
The riders arrived escorted by the Ann Arbor Fire Department. The 41&9 Foundation has firm roots in the firefighting community, as the Schuelers' neighborhood in Chicago was heavily populated by Chicago firefighters. Most of the bikers are firefighters themselves.
Cliff Gartner recently retired from the Chicago Fire Department after 35 years and coached against Henry's baseball team. He said he had never been to Michigan Stadium before but had watched games on TV.
"Obviously I watched games, but I had no idea it was this great, this fantastic," Gartner said. Gesturing at the bikers tossing footballs around and running into the end zone, he added, "Look at these guys, they all look like happy kids."
The joyous occasion at the Big House belied the seriousness of the riders' mission with the Chicago-to-Boston trek: to raise money and awareness for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL. This was the cancer that ultimately led to the circumstances surrounding Henry's tragic death.
"Henry, he said to my dad, he said it verbally: 'I really want to make sure no other kid has to go through what I went through,'" Anna said. "He said that when he was sick. He was very adamant about that."
For a 14-year-old to be so altruistic in the face of death is remarkable, but according to his family, that's simply the person Henry was. Anna said her brother was passionate, nice and "got along with everybody." That didn't mean that on the field, sports-obsessed Henry held anything back. Anna characterized him as one of the most competitive people she has ever known.
While Anna admitted she was naturally more laid-back than her brother, she has learned to channel his competitive spirit playing on the women's lacrosse team.
"I was always more laid-back," Anna said. "He was really competitive. I think playing with him and really seeing that and seeing what it takes to be a winner, it takes a really competitive spirit. I think playing with him and learning how much work you really have to put in to be great is probably the biggest thing I took away from Henry."
What it takes to be a winner is something the Michigan women's lacrosse team is still learning, coming off its first season as a varsity sport. Anna's competitive fire helped her lead the way for the young Wolverines with 32 goals.
Michigan women's lacrosse coach Jennifer Ulehla said she saw shades of Henry in Anna's play during this season.
"I think behind (her competitiveness) is a little bit of her brother Henry," Ulehla said. "Throughout the entire season, I've seen her channel him. She's a special athlete, she can make a difference and she can change the outcome of a game. There will be times when I'll just tap into her and tell her, 'It's time. It's time to make a difference.' I really think she focuses in and just channels this power that she has, and this passion and really reaches a different level."
From left: Coach Ulehla, Matt Schueler and Anna Schueler holding Henry Schueler's baseball jersey
Anna characterized herself as laid-back compared to Henry, but now her competitive streak runs a mile long. While the team was waiting for the bike riders to arrive, Anna was engaging in some friendly banter with her strength and conditioning coach, Ashley Jackson. Jackson described a regiment the team had been engaged in during the spring semester, which Anna has not been present for, telling her jokingly, "You can't handle that."
Anna was incredulous. "Are you serious?" she asked.
One of her teammates chimed in, "You can't say that to Anna!"
That's because Anna lives off of challenges like that one. Whether it was the challenge of playing sports against older boys, as she did with Henry's friends, or joining a first-year women's lacrosse program made up entirely of freshmen, Anna embraces difficulty as opportunity.
It's just one of the many lessons she learned from her brother. So it was a fitting tribute to him at Michigan Stadium on Wednesday. In a way, she was returning the favor he had shown her in the fifth grade. She showed up to cheer on a group of volunteers biking in his memory.
And she brought her teammates with her.
For more details about the Henry Schueler 41&9 Foundation and information on how to donate to the cause, visit HenrySchueler.org.