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Native Americans, after inventing lacrosse centuries ago, called it “the medicine game.” They said it was a supernatural gift, possessing the power to bond and heal communities.

“People from the tribe hoped if they played hard enough and the ‘Creator’ was pleased with the game, he would take energy from those who played and transfer it to someone sick in the tribe,” said Christian Zwickert, the fifth-year men’s lacrosse coach at Wesley College, a small United Methodist school in Dover, Del.

The allegorical implications are not lost on Zwickert. Someone is sick in the tribe. Zwickert’s son, Collin, was born with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a serious brain disorder that hinders motor skills, body movement and posture.

Yet, in the midst of great trial, amazing spiritual medicine has been poured out on the Zwickerts, at Wesley and far beyond. There is no ancient lacrosse mysticism at work here. Rather, God’s Spirit is using lacrosse as a major conduit of grace and  blessing to the Zwickerts and others across the country.

Of this much, Zwickert is sure: “Collin is here for a purpose.”

‘God’s plan is good’
Panic? There was no time to panic.
Not when everything seemed to be whizzing by at breakneck speed.

Zwickert’s wife, Heather, was giving birth to their second child, a boy, but there were major complications. Collin’s head had emerged, but for eight agonizing minutes, the rest of him was stuck in the birth canal.

At some point, Collin’s heart stopped, as did his breathing, and it took 22 minutes to resuscitate him. Zwickert remembers hearing the nurses ask each other how long they were to continue trying to revive his baby.

“It was terrible. It was surreal,” he recalled. “It was almost like an out-of-body experience, like in a horror movie, and there was nothing I could do. I was looking at my wife and my child and thinking, ‘I might lose both of them.’”

Zwickert didn’t lose either, but Collin’s limitations were evident immediately. Now 19 months old, Collin has sight, hearing and cognitive understanding, but no one knows to what extent. He experiences back spasms, struggles to control movement in his trunk, neck and legs, and he also has trouble swallowing.

Collin has endured nearly 20 different tests and procedures, including a feeding tube that was surgically inserted directly into his stomach. He takes 11 daily medications, undergoes seven therapy sessions a week, and requires a nebulizer and an oxygen concentrator to help him breathe. The Zwickerts’ living room is now a nursery/medical room for Collin, who receives in-home care from therapists 17 hours a day during weekdays.

Team Zwickert: Heather and Christian with Collin and Avery.

 Want to help the Zwickerts meet their financial needs? Send donations to:

United Cerebral Palsy of DE
700 A River RD
Wilmington, DE 19809

(Please write "Collin Zwickert" in the memo line)

This is the reality that awaits Zwickert each night in the midst of 60-hour work weeks as a college coach. Still, he has shown remarkable poise, faith and perseverance according to those who know him best.

“He doesn’t bring that to work with him,” said Mike Drass, Wesley’s director of sports and recreation. “It’s something that anybody under normal circumstances probably would, but he has been able to come here as a coach and prepare this team to be the best they can be. Once he’s done coaching, he switches gears and is able to be a husband and a father for his family.”

If lacrosse is Zwickert’s medicine game, Randy Chambers is the medicine man, bringing him true spiritual elixir from God’s Word. Chambers, FCA’s area director for the East Coast’s Delmarva (Delaware/Maryland/Virginia) area, started working with the Wesley lacrosse team in 2006 and has since become an invaluable source of friendship and inspiration to Zwickert.
“From day one,” Zwickert said, “Randy has been an integral part of my daily life in helping me understand God’s plan with Collin and getting me to open up and understand he’s here for a purpose, and God’s plan for him and us is good.”

Last fall, Chambers felt led to do something tangible to help the Zwickerts. While much of Collin’s healthcare costs are covered by Heather’s medical insurance or Medicaid, some aren’t, like electric bills that often soar to $700 a month when Collin needs his oxygen machine on 24 hours a day. Soon, Christian and Heather Zwickert will have to make some pricey home modifications to keep up with Collin’s care. And they also need a wheelchair-adaptive vehicle.

“We typically don’t go anywhere,” said Zwickert, who also has a 3-year-old daughter, Avery. “We took the kids to see the Easter Bunny, and that was the first time we’d been out as a family since Halloween. It’s just too hard.”

Last October, Chambers organized a “Coaches for Collin” fundraising breakfast at a local church. The event sparked more benefits over the winter: a bowling fundraiser during the annual U.S. Lacrosse National Convention in Philadelphia; a breakfast at a church in Wilmington (Del.) featuring midfielder Jason Motta of Major League Lacrosse’s Philadelphia Barrage; and a high school lacrosse play day that attracted teams from Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

At the Philadelphia fundraiser, coaches from all over the United States and at every level of lacrosse—many of whom Zwickert had never met before—and even some from Germany, where Zwickert had played on and coached the national team, opened their wallets. All told, the events raised roughly $135,000.

“It has been an unbelievable outpouring of support from the lacrosse community,” he said.

‘Lives are being transformed’
As support has flooded in, Zwickert’s faith has been galvanized. He said his testimony is “a work in progress,” but one that now includes significant growth through the ministry of Chambers.

Zwickert with FCA’s Randy Chambers

“When I was uninformed, I’d think about people being born again and think they were crazy, that it was all they talked about,” Zwickert said. “But through FCA, I now realize [Christianity] is non-denominational. That’s why I want to involve Randy in my program and get guys to hear a message that might not have been communicated too clearly to them in the past. I want to get them around an organization that really cares about people.”

Zwickert has welcomed FCA into his program with open arms. Coach Chambers, as the team calls him, wears Wesley team apparel and prays with the players before and after most games. He holds one-on-one meetings with players, and earlier this season he took all the captains out to dinner to minister to them. The team even wears the FCA cross logo on their game jerseys.

Dozens of Wesley athletes—not just on the lacrosse team—have made commitments to Christ this year, either first-time expressions of faith or renewed vows. And many outside the Wesley community have been touched by the gospel message being spread in conjunction with Collin’s benefits. In fact, Zwickert’s best friend drove up from Virginia Beach, Va., for one of the fundraising breakfasts and walked away with some food for thought.

“It kind of opened his mind to what’s going on, to FCA and what it’s all about, and to Christianity,” Zwickert said.

Chambers has been humbled by the spiritual fruit he sees.

“Lives are being transformed,” he said. “It all comes back to a coach with an open heart.”

‘It’s not all about winning’
With great faith, Zwickert is marching forward.

After posting consecutive 10-win seasons in the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference the last two years, Wesley switched to the powerful Capital Athletic Conference, where seven-time NCAA Division III champion Salisbury (Md.) plays. Wesley lost to Salisbury 21-4 on Feb. 27 but improbably held the Seagulls scoreless for a quarter. They also nearly upset then-No. 11 Washington (Md.) in an 8-7 loss four days earlier.

“It has been an unbelievable outpouring of support from the lacrosse community.”

“It’s not all about winning,” said Zwickert. “There’s a bigger picture. It’s about teaching life lessons.”

Off the field, far greater hurdles await as Collin’s future remains foggy.

“It’s all about the brain and how it responds and fixes itself,” Zwickert said. “The brain is so mysterious. That’s why you see kids diagnosed with cerebral palsy and they have completely different issues.”

So Zwickert will keep immersing himself in the medicine game during the day and returning to the great demands of his home life at night. And in the midst of it all, he knows the Great Physician will continue to work in wonderful, mysterious ways.

“Even though people might look at Collin as weak or disabled or injured, he was able to rally people from all walks of life and bring people closer to God,” Zwickert said. “I think that’s been my walk along with him.” 


United Cerebral Palsy of DE
700 A River RD
Wilmington, DE 19809

(Please write "Collin Zwickert" in the memo line)

*For more stories about faith and sport, visit, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

Photos courtesy of Wesley College, Randy Chambers, Christian Zwickert.

Copyright 2007 Sharing the Victory Magazine

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