Kathryn Mahoney and Piotr Pasik were once perfectstrangers.
Despite not knowing one another, both are athletes -Mahoney a Academic All-Big Ten gymnast, and a leader on the Spartans' lineup;Pasik a first-year graduate student specializing in rehabilitation counselingwho plays on several intramural soccer teams.
And both face physical challenges.
Tragedy struck gymnastics practice Dec. 29, 2010, whenMahoney was practicing her vault and fractured her C6 vertebra. After asuccessful surgery at Sparrow Hospital, she was left mostly paralyzed withintense rehabilitation ahead.
Pasik, who was born with spastic cerebral palsy, can'twalk and has to play soccer in a walker, is still is a top goal-scorer.
Pasik knows Mahoney will have similar issues like theones he has when she returns to campus in the fall to complete her degree.She'll have a lot of adjustments to make, but Pasik developed a plan to helpmake her transition and recovery a little bit easier.
\Both Kathryn and I do have a physical disability,"Pasik said. "I could never walk, and I never will. ... I've had 27 years toadjust to this, whereas (she) is going to have to start that at 22."
Money for ‘Money'
Pasik had helped out during gymnastics meets and had seen Mahoney - but the twohad never met - and when he heard about her accident, he identified with herand wanted to help.
After Mahoney's injury, the Kathryn Mahoney Fund wasestablished at the MSU Federal Credit Union, or MSUFCU, to raise money to help with her rehab.
Pasik recruited sponsors to donate money for every goalhe scores in his soccer games. He's hoping to raise awareness for people withdisabilities while helping Mahoney - known to her teammates as "Money" - withher recovery.
"To be honest, life's been really good to me," Pasiksaid. "Any opportunity I get to help people in any way I try to take advantageof."
The intramural soccer teams are in season, currently inthe playoffs. So far, Pasik has scored 61 goals on all of his teams - 50 in theregular season and 11 in the playoffs - and wears a wristband with Mahoney'sinitials on it as a reminder of his cause. Any money he raises goes directlyinto the fund, so Pasik never will know how much money he has raised forMahoney.
Pasik said he has several sponsors who anonymouslydonate money to Mahoney's fund online. One of the sponsors is gymnastics headcoach Kathie Klages, who said she pledged $5 for every goal he scores. GregJanicki - a former MSU soccer player and current MajorLeague Soccer player - also is a sponsor, Pasik said.
"(Pasik) has a huge heart and you can tell thatimmediately," Klages said. "Within five minutes of meeting him, you can tellthat this is a good guy."
As an assistant director for Intramural Sports, JohnnyAllen said when he heard of Pasik's project, he wasted no time in offering hissupport and a donation.
"The message is that we're all in this together, andwhen somebody's down, we're trying to do what we can to help lift them up,"Allen said.
Utilizing social media for Mahoney and his cause, Pasikhas a Facebook page and Twitter account - both named Goals4Money - to spreadthe word.
"Social media is ridiculously amazing," Pasik said."I've had a lot of positive responses on Facebook."
For two months, Pasik organized his fundraiser without ever meeting Mahoney.
Finally, on Feb. 27, he traveled to the RehabilitationInstitute of Chicago, where Mahoney was relocated after her surgery. He wantedto make sure she was OK with his fundraising and offer her more personalsupport.
Because of Mahoney's continuing recovery, The State Newswas unable to contact her.
"Meeting Kathryn was amazing," he said. "When I left(her) room, I just had the biggest smile on my face. She has such a positiveattitude about things, and she's just so motivated.
"It's just really encouraging. I remember doingintensive rehab myself back in the day, and it was so great to see her workinghard and making progress."
Although insurance will cover her medical needs duringrecovery, the MSUFCU fund helps with needs andadjustments she might require in the future that aren't covered.
"There's a possibility she's going to have to have a carmodified," Klages said. "Will insurance cover that? I don't know. When shemoves back to East Lansing to finish school, will there be handicappedapartments available for her, or will there have to be some modifications doneto where she's living? I don't know. There are just so many question marks."
Pasik is unsure of how much money he'll raise for Mahoney, but he is on amission to change attitudes toward people with disabilities and make peoplethink about accessibility issues.
"Every once in a while, you have a situation wheresomebody says something ridiculous where you've got to brush it off," Pasiksaid. "But at the same time, it's just as motivating as a positive responsebecause that's why I'm out there, to change those attitudes."
The Spartan gymnasts also are in full support ofPasik's efforts to help their teammate; "touched" by him stepping up forsomeone who was once a stranger.
"I think it's really inspirational and motivational thathe's pitching in and doing his own thing as well," junior gymnast Daneen Habasaid. "I think it shows how close everybody in the Spartan community is."
Since being in rehab, Mahoney has received an enormousamount of support from the MSU community, in and out ofthe athletics department, Klages said. She said each athletics team sendsMahoney a gesture of kindness each week to remind her that she's not forgotten.
Continuing to raise awareness and money, Pasik said hehopes his fundraising and love for soccer will help make her life easier whenshe returns.
"I was just so touched by the fact that he - notknowing her and seeing her from a distance and had never even spoken to her -was willing to ... get involved," Klages said.
"He's just all about Spartans helping Spartans."