Stefanie Spielman (top left) shares a laugh with her daughters Maddie (top right), Macy and Audrey and son Noah. Photo courtesy of Maddie Spielman
As a sophomore at Upper Arlington High School, few things held more terror for Maddie Spielman than her public speaking/debate class. “It was really a burden for me,” Maddie says with a laugh. “I’d get these sweaty palms every time I had to speak in front of my class.” These days Maddie doesn’t have time for such anxiety attacks. During October, National Breast Cancer Awareness month, Maddie often is in front of groups two to three times a week as she carries on the message of her mother, cancer crusader Stefanie Spielman. The Ohio State sophomore, who is majoring in communications, says she discovered a new-found courage to become a spokesperson for the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research after her mother passed away on Nov. 19, 2009. Maddie is becoming the face of the organization that has raised over $13 million dollars for cancer research, appearing in Kroger ads with her father Chris and Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer and in Donato’s ads with chairman Jane Grote Abell. “If someone would’ve told me I’d be doing this four years ago, I would’ve laughed but something seemed to click,” Maddie says. “Before my mom passed away, I promised her I’d continue her fight against cancer. (And to do that) I really had to conquer that fear. “This whole experience has changed me as a person and helped me grow into something I never thought I could be. People who knew me back then are surprised that this once timid girl is now trying to do everything she can to fight cancer. If that means sharing my story with others, then I’m willing to do that.” Chris Goddard, who teaches public speaking at UA, was stunned to learn Maddie felt like she struggled in his class. Maddie won the “Speech Ninja Award” which is given to the best speaker in Goddard’s class. “She said she struggled with public speaking?” Goddard says. “She, like many students in class, started out looking like a deer in headlights for her first speech but steadily improved, gained confidence, and became one of the best speakers in her class. She was very engaging and vibrant in front of an audience. “It says more about her character if she is telling you she struggled. She has certainly grown and matured and has ample opportunity to put her speaking skills into practice.” With a last name like Spielman, Maddie grew up constantly in the glow of the spotlight. Her father Chris was the 1987 Rotary Lombardi Award winner as a linebacker for Ohio State and a four-time Pro Bowl selection with the Detroit Lions. Currently he’s a color analyst for ESPN’s college football broadcasts. Maddie was four when her mother stepped into the spotlight. In 1998, Stefanie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Chris, then playing for the Buffalo Bills, decided to sit out the season to be with his wife and family and shaved his head as a sign of support for her. Stefanie battled through four bouts of cancer, each one making her more determined to raise money to fight the disease. “My mom never once questioned why she was given this disease,” Maddie says. “Someone asked her once why she thought she had cancer and she simply answered ‘Why not me?’ She realized she had been given cancer for a reason. That reason was to share her story and help others when they were going through the same thing. “She never made it about herself. She was always concerned about the well being of her family and for other cancer survivors. For a lot of people, it was very encouraging to witness someone handle the disease with such grace.” In the fall of 2009, Stefanie’s cancer had not only returned but spread to her brain and spine. Knowing her time was running out, Stefanie made Maddie promise she would carry the torch even if her mother wasn’t there beside her. Stefanie, confined to a wheelchair, joined the rest of her family on the field during Ohio State’s 31-27 victory over Navy on Sept. 5, 2009 as Chris was being honored for his recent selection into the College Football Hall of Fame. “As everyone was cheering, I remember looking over at my mom,” Maddie says. “At that time she didn’t do a lot of movement but she raised her hand and started shaking it back and forth. It was almost like she was pumping her fists. I’ll never forget the look of determination on her face. That keeps me going each and every day.” It turned out to be one of Stefanie’s last public appearances. On Nov. 19, 2009, two days before the Ohio State-Michigan game, she passed away. In the weeks afterward, Maddie became a teenage soccer mom. She was carting her two sisters Macy (now 12) and Audrey (11) to practice or spending time with her brother Noah (17) when their father was away at work. “I was forced to grow up a lot faster than most 15-year olds. We all had to make adjustments to a ‘new normal’ as my dad would say,” she says. “It helped us grow together and form a special bond most people don’t have with their family. We were all able to relate to each other and share how we were feeling at certain times.” One of the things that helped Maddie deal with her own sense of loss was playing for the UA girls basketball team. Coach Chris Savage remembers watching Maddie go from being timid on the court to an aggressive starter by her senior year. “Obviously it was a tough situation but it molded her into a tougher person,” Savage says. “Through sports, she was able to have an outlet for what was going on in her life. She started to develop a lot more confidence in herself. Once that confidence started to develop, she used that natural athleticism she had to her advantage. She wasn’t the tallest player or the biggest player, but she used all of her strengths.” During Maddie’s junior year, the Bears decided to use their Foundation Game against Hilliard Bradley to raise money for the Stefanie Spielman Fund. In a perfect, Hollywood world, Maddie would’ve scored 20 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and hit the game-winning basket. In real life, Upper Arlington is over 2,000 miles away from Hollywood. “I was really nervous and honestly I don’t think I played very well,” Maddie says, laughing. “But that didn’t matter. In the end, we were all wearing pink and we supported a common goal. In the bigger picture, that is what it’s all about.” During the month of October, many sports teams from the high school level on up to the NFL have donned the pink in support of breast cancer research. At the Worthington Kilbourne volleyball team’s “Volley for the Cure” game, fans went away from the traditional “I believe that we will win” cheer to a chant of “I believe we’ll find a cure.” Maddie echoes that sentiment. “I truly believe cancer will be cured in our lifetime,” she says. “I always leave those (For the Cure) events so incredibly inspired. It reminds me that my mom’s legacy is still living on today. I just know how happy and proud she’d be that (our family isn’t) using her death as an excuse for anything but as motivation for everything.”