At a fundraising event for Community Hospice Care Tuesday night, NFL quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, spoke to guests about overcoming the obstacles he has encountered in his football career.
Gradkowski began playing football at age 9, after his father introduced him to the sport. Years later, in high school, Gradkowski had intentions of playing only basketball.
"I doubt I'll even play football now," he remembered saying.
Bruce Gradkowski, a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, signs Caine McDonald’s Steelers shirt during a Community Hospice Care fundraiser Tuesday evening. To view more photos from this event, visit cu.advertiser-tribune.com.
He was determined to give football one more shot, however, and after a fun season decided football was the sport he would pursue.
During his senior year of high school, Gradkowski committed to playing football at Eastern Kentucky University - until he got a call from the University of Toledo offering him a substantial scholarship. When he got to Toledo, Gradkowski was nervous about his lack of playing time. He remembers telling his college roommate, "If I don't start, I'm not going to go to the NFL."
His roommate was his biggest source of inspiration. He told Gradkowski to take it one step at a time, and suggested he read Jeremiah 29:11 in the Bible. "It all goes back to your faith," he said of overcoming hardships.
Gradkowski said this advice drove him to take his successes and his fallbacks in stride.
"You're always going to hit roadblocks," he said, "but it's about perseverance."
Gradkowski took this advice to the NFL, when he finally was drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After three seasons, and a few professional starts, Gradkowski was cut from the team. From there, Gradkowski bounced from the St. Louis Rams to the Cleveland Browns to the Oakland Raiders.
In Oakland, which he recalled as his most enjoyable NFL experience, Gradkowski tore both MCLs in his knees. After tearing his pectoral muscle, which required surgery, Gradkowski was picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Finally, last year, Gradkowski signed a three-year deal with his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Speaking about the difficulties of being cut so frequently, Gradkowski reiterated his college roommate's advice: "One step at a time. Not once in my mind did I believe it was over." He added, "That's why I tell my whole story. Tough times don't last, but tough people do."
Community Hospice Care board member Bernie Kirian, whose niece, Miranda, is married to Gradkowski, reached out to him to see if he would donate his time to the event. Gradkowski was happy to accept, because his wife is a hospice nurse herself.
"It takes special people to work hospice," Gradkowski said, and called it a "good cause."
After speaking, Gradkowski fielded questions, then took pictures and signed autographs, with proceeds benefitting Community Hospice Care.