Jets kicker Nick Folk and his girlfriend, Julianne Plauche, don't go into New York City often. So for daily commuter Thierry Collot, seeing Plauche on the train was a rarity. Plauche was meeting Folk, quarterback Erik Ainge and punter Steve Weatherford for dinner, when Collot struck up a conversation with her. With his heavy French accent, Collot put Plauche at ease. Then a text message came through on his cell phone and changed the mood completely.
Collot had received an update on the condition of his 7-year-old son, Julien, who has been in and out of Manhattan's Sloan-Kettering Hospital since the age of 4, when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Since that time, Julien, a rabid Jets fan, was diagnosed with Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD) after one failed and one successful bone marrow transplant.
Upon hearing the story of Julien's struggles, Plauche went into action and within minutes Folk, Ainge and Weatherford were gathering Jets gear at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center and making their way to the city. The group had decided to make an impromptu visit to see Julien in the hospital before dinner.
"They were all so excited," Plauche said. "They wouldn't stop calling me to find out the details and to tell me what they're bringing."
Upon arriving at the hospital, the players were sad to see Julien's struggles and pain, but were pleased to be able to talk with him briefly and spend time with his parents, who were grateful for a change in their daily routine. Practically living in the hospital between business trips and daily activities, the Collots were thrilled to host their son's heroes.
"A visit like this is amazing," Thierry Collot said. "My wife didn't expect it at all, and it was a total surprise. It made our day if not our week or month. It was a major break, and we need them. It basically brings us back to some kind of a normal life at least for a moment. It's very precious."
Childhood diseases are no stranger to Folk, whose cousin has been affected by neurofibromatosis and undergone brain surgeries in order to deal with the problem. In addition, Weatherford has a 2-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter, so a trip to the hospital made all three thankful for their own families' health and reminded them of the difficulties many Jets fans face. Folk, Ainge and Weatherford were happy to make their slight detour and lift the spirits of a family that truly needed it.
"The guys were just joking around with them," Plauche said. "I think it was for the parents more than anything else because they have been stuck in the hospital for weeks at a time. This gave them positive reinforcement that there are good people out there, that miracles do happen, and gave them something to look forward to."
Julien was undergoing treatment, but was able to receive the gifts from the players and let them know that he was a Jets fan. Julien personifies the Jets spirit — tough, gritty and unrelenting. A self-proclaimed fighter and survivor, he is confident in his abilities to conquer all of his challenges, just like this year's Jets squad is confident in its talents and teamwork on the field. The three players got to meet a young man who has battled through hardships from which even the strongest NFL player might not be able to bounce back.
As much as Julien impressed the players, Folk said he hopes they provided Julien with the extra strength he'll need to recover.
"I hope we put a good impression on him," Folk said. "I know it was hard for him, but I hope he gets some encouragement from it. I hope he can use that to fight his problems and it would be awesome if he recovers fully so we can see him out at a game."
The chances of Julien making a game are increasing as he continues to recover. In fact, his most recent hospital stay was supposed to last 10 days, but he was able to leave the hospital after only four. In addition to the amazing work being done at Sloan-Kettering, the Collots have done even more to try to save their son's life and the lives of other children with such diseases. They started the Julien Collot Foundation in 2007 and have raised money for Ronald McDonald House and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, among other charities.
"If there is a reason for all of this madness," Collot said, "maybe it was for us to start the foundation because we've been doing a lot of events, raising funds for the research, and maybe it was meant to be that way. It was funny, the way we met with Nick's girlfriend was something magical as well and also might be a sign."
Collot is from France but lived in Miami for 15 years after meeting his wife, Jacqueline, in Aruba. Jacqueline is a New Yorker whose parents are big-time Jets fans, but Collot has been a Dolphins fan as a result of his time in Miami. This has caused a father-and-son sports rivalry that was ratcheted up a notch when Folk, Ainge and Weatherford stopped by. At that point, Thierry could not help but be impressed and became one step closer to changing his allegiances.
"Slowly but surely my son is trying to convince me that I should be a Jets fan and not a Dolphins fan", Collot said.
Maybe that's the Jets spirit in him — fighting and surviving through one more battle.