Inspired by brother’s death, Ohio State wrestler organizes blanket drive for patients undergoing chemotherapy

Member of the Ohio State wrestling team making a blanket

Wrestling is a symbol of resilience and strength in the face of hard things. It’s a sentiment that goes deep for Ohio State University freshman wrestler Nic Bouzakis.

Nic’s passion for the sport is in his blood — his father was a high school and college wrestler, and his little brother was named after a type of wrestling: Greco Roman. Greco was just 6 when he died of a rare form of spinal cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. It was discovered when he developed a crossed eye while attending wrestling camp.

Nic turned fully to wrestling during a very dark time in his life when his brother was sick and ultimately died from complications of cancer. Nic said it made him feel closer to his brother when he competed in wrestling matches. He continues to honor his brother today by donning a red Team Greco hat after each wrestling match, where he’s a highly accomplished member of The Ohio State University wrestling team.

Now, wrestling represents an important and meaningful opportunity for Nic to spread messages of cancer awareness and resilience.

Recently, he rallied more than 30 Ohio State wrestling team members to make and deliver custom blankets for new chemotherapy patients at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital.

Making blankets for new chemotherapy patients is part of an OSUCCC – James’ “Covering You With Care” initiative launched in 2016 by nurse Andrea Linhart. Chemotherapy often involves repeat visits over weeks or months; the blankets are a source of comfort that patients have welcomed and have often brought back to treatment.

Visibly moved, Nic delivered a blanket to Lauren Speelman, 22, of Westerville who was diagnosed just 10 days earlier with lymphoma.

“So many people encouraged and supported us when my brother was sick. I want to do what I can to encourage people in their battle with the disease,” Bouzakis says. “I always think of the Rocky Balboa quote: ‘Life is going to knock you down, and it is up to you to get back up.’ That is what wrestling gave me, and I want to spread that message of hope, strength and resilience for anyone who is going through something hard.”

Ohio State University wrestler Nic Bouzakis, center, makes a blanket with fellow wrestler Gavin Hoffman and nurse Andrea Linhart.
Ohio State University wrestler Nic Bouzakis, center, makes a blanket with fellow wrestler Gavin Hoffman and nurse Andrea Linhart. Bouzakis brought more than 30 wrestling team members with him to make blankets for new chemotherapy patients.
Nic Bouzakis making a blanket for chemotherapy patients
Nic Bouzakis was inspired to give back in honor of his brother, Greco Roman Bouzakis, who died at age 6 from a rare form of spinal cancer.
Close up of a member of the Ohio State wrestling team making a blanket
“Greco loved wrestling so much. He lives in me when I hit the mat,” says Nic Bouzakis of his brother.
Nic Bouzakis was joined by nearly 30 members of The Ohio State University wrestling team to make blankets.
Nic Bouzakis was joined by nearly 30 members of The Ohio State University wrestling team to make blankets at the OSUCCC – James. “I want to do what I can to encourage people in their battle with the disease,” Bouzakis says.
Members of The Ohio State University wrestling team show off the nearly 80 blankets that they made.
Members of The Ohio State University wrestling team show the results of their effort — nearly 80 blankets that will be donated to new chemotherapy patients at the OSUCCC – James.
Nic Bouzakis helps cancer nurses Andrea Linhart and Christina Miller deliver completed blankets to chemotherapy patients.
Nic Bouzakis, right, helps cancer nurses Andrea Linhart, center, and Christina Miller, deliver completed blankets to chemotherapy patients. Linhart started the blanket initiative in 2016, which began as a small effort on her nursing unit and today has expanded to serve hundreds of patients thanks to generous donations from volunteers.
Nic Bouzakis, accompanied by cancer nurses Andrea Linhart and Christina Milller delivers a blanket to a cancer patient.
Nic Bouzakis, accompanied by cancer nurses Andrea Linhart (left) and Christina Milller, along with wrestling teammate Gavin Bell, delivers a blanket to cancer patient Lauren Speelman, 22, a senior marketing major at Miami University. Speelman was beginning a six-month chemotherapy regimen that day.

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