By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Editor’s Note: This story was updated throughout on March 9, 2018, with event results.
Retired pro football player Mark Schlereth benched 225 pounds 26 times, taming social media taunts and raising money for a cause dear to his and his granddaughter’s heart.
The Facebook.com/1043TheFan live event Friday was a result of Schlereth’s musing on social media that he could easily bench press the average of college football prospects working out for scouts at the NFL Combine.
He wrote that and immediately the taunting began.
Some of Schlereth’s 598,000 Twitter followers trash talked and made bets that he couldn’t bench the amount that only 50 percent of the country’s top offensive line talent performed at the recent combine.
Schlereth, a sports analyst with FS1 and a three-time Super Bowl champion offensive lineman who retired in 2000 after a 12-year NFL career, challenged the hecklers to put their money where their mouths are.
He made the event into a fundraiser for the American Heart Association, earmarked toward congenital heart defects.
“It just became a thing organically because I was talking smack to a bunch of people I don’t know,” he said.
And when it came time to show what he could do, he crushed it – both in bench pressing and fundraising.
He knocked out the first 24 reps quickly and seemingly with little strain. He slowed for the final two as his family and the crowd cheered.
“I knew I was in trouble around 12,” he said breathlessly afterward. “That was hard. I thought I’d get more.”
He did get more on the funding side.
Schlereth’s team goal was to raise $10,000, but far surpassed that coming in at $15,000 and climbing.
The donations will go to the Hope and Jack Fund, which will directly support research through the AHA’s Congenital Heart Defect Research Awards, co-funded by The Children’s Heart Foundation.
The worthy cause both began and was amped up through sports talk trolling.
“HA HA HA HA HA. I laugh in your face, Stink!” said actor and comedian Dr. Ken Jeong before the event. Jeong is known for his roles on the television shows “Community” and “Dr. K,” as well as for playing gangster Leslie Chow in “The Hangover” trilogy.
Jeong, who is an AHA volunteer, ended his mocking video with “Chow challenges Stink to benefit the American Heart Association.”
Jeong’s tweet, along with smart-mouth challenges from sports talk podcast “Pardon My Take,” and ESPN talk show host Trey Wingo, garnered more than 75,000 views.
Comedian/actor Anthony Anderson, star of the ABC sitcom “Black-ish,” also weighed in.
“HA! I’m only 217 pounds and he couldn’t lift me. OK, so let’s see what he does. This benefits the American Heart Association. Let’s hope his heart doesn’t give out,” Anderson said in his video post.
Schlereth came back with, “I’ll come bench the whole set of @blackish.abc.”
Comedian/actor Rob Riggle joined in by video also before the event, wearing a tuxedo.
“Either way everybody wins. If you fail, I get a good laugh. If you don’t, the American Heart Association wins,” he said, adding that he was dressed up because the event was “important.”
While the back-and-forth jawing is quintessential sports talk, the cause is real to Schlereth.
His granddaughter, Drew, was born with a congenital heart defect in 2016.
Within 30 seconds of her birth, she was turning blue, Schlereth said. Doctors immediately diagnosed her with transposition of the great arteries, a condition where the aorta is connected to the right ventricle, and the pulmonary artery is connected to the left ventricle, opposite of where they should be.
Schlereth hurriedly made his way across the country and arrived in time to be with his family and Drew before her surgery.
“Everyone was more in shock than anything else,” he said. “We’re a family of faith and we prayed a lot. It broke my heart and it crushed me to see how broken my son was and how scared he was for his daughter. It’s frightening when they wheel your granddaughter out of a room and you know they’re going to open her chest for six hours.”
But it all worked.
“She was amazing – is amazing,” said Schlereth, who is “Popo” with his family instead of his widely known nickname of “Stink.”
“She’s sitting on my lap, wanting me to read her a book. She’s been a little miracle,” said Schlereth as his granddaughter babbled.
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