Michigan football fans travel across the country to see Brady Hoke, raise $350K for prostate cancer research
There are 3,819 miles between Ann Arbor and Anchorage, Alaska.
A quick estimate on flight time is roughly 10 hours, if all goes well, and it can cost upward of $1,000 round trip.
But for Anchorage residents Dr. Shawn Johnston and Paul Varady, every dime, mile and bag of airline peanuts became well worth it Thursday when they were able to run through the tunnel at Michigan Stadium with Michigan football coach Brady Hoke jogging close behind.
"Just to be able to stand on this field with that coaching staff," said Johnston, "made it absolutely worth everything."
Johnston and Varady were among 50 participants in this week's 2012 Michigan Men's Football Experience, a two-day Michigan football fantasy camp aimed at raising money for the "Men of Michigan" prostate cancer research fund.
Participants were required to make a $5,000 donation to attend, and organizers estimate roughly $350,000 was raised during the event.
Varady, a Michigan native who is now retired and living in Anchorage, agreed with Johnston.
In fact, he says he'll gladly be back to do it all over again -- if Hoke will have him.
"It's worth it," said Varady, whose father was treated for cancer at the University of Michigan Hospital in 1955. "What they're doing for prostate cancer, it's really worth it. And the experience you get from this, there's not a big enough capital 'E' for what we get out of it."
The event gave participants a chance to experience just about everything an actual Wolverine football player goes through before a game. Campers went through a full team meeting, watched film at Schembechler Hall, toured Al Glick Field House and had a reception dinner with Hoke, his coaching staff and several former players on Wednesday night.
On Thursday, the group went through a team practice, had a pre-game meal at the Campus Inn, went through another film review, dressed in the Michigan locker room and ran onto the stadium turf through the tunnel -- even touching a replica M Club banner.
From there, the group went through various drills with the Michigan coaching staff -- including Hoke, offensive coordinator Al Borges and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison -- before participating in an on-field scrimmage.
"The last day and a half, the enthusiasm and everybody involved, from the participants to our coaches, (has been great)," Hoke said. "To have a great cause and raise money for prostate cancer and the research, and to be with guys who have a passion about the University of Michigan and Michigan football was a lot of fun.
"We stayed pretty healthy, which is always a good thing, and they had a great time."
The football experience event was originally put in place by former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr in 2006. Carr held the event again in 2007, but when Rich Rodriguez was hired in 2008, the "experience" was shelved.
Hoke brought it back out of hibernation this spring, though, and was happy to do so.
"We looked a little bit at what they (did under Carr) and obviously we have our own ideas," Hoke said of the event. "We tried to be as official (as we could) with the pre-game meal and those kind of things."
Apparently, Hoke's mission was accomplished.
"It's an absolute pleasure to try to even get the slightest glimpse of what it takes (to play football at Michigan)," said Johnston, a native of Kingston, Mich., who attended Michigan for undergraduate and medical school. "Just the tradition that surrounds so many of the things that were done here, I love the fact that we're back to that tradition.
"That we're embracing it. ... There's a reason why Michigan is going to be very successful for years down the road when you've got Mattison and Borges and coach Hoke."
When Hoke was introduced as Michigan's new coach in January 2011, he said he and his family would have walked to Ann Arbor from San Diego to take the job.
Johnston and Varady might not walk from Anchorage to Ann Arbor for another Michigan football fantasy camp, but they'll certainly try to make the trek one way or another again.
All 3,819 miles of it.
"If you don't want to suit up after talking to them," Johnston says, "there's something wrong with you."