Ann Arbor — Mia DelVerne, the 12-year-old effervescent daughter of former Michigan kicker Jeff DelVerne and wife, Shannon, beamed as she spoke about her brother, Colt.
Colt was 10 when he died last November from DIPG — Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma — a rare pediatric cancer that has now affected the families of two former Michigan football players. Chad Carr was 5 when he died from DIPG in 2015. He was the son of Tammi and Jason Carr. Jason was a quarterback at Michigan and played for his father, Lloyd Carr. The Carrs created the ChadTough Foundation to honor their youngest of three children and raise funding for DIPG research.
They have spearheaded a number of fundraising events, including the annual ChadTough Gala that raised $1.2 million last May, and Thursday night’s event, Dancing with the Michigan Stars. Among the participants at the Kensington Hotel were two-time Michigan captain Jon Jansen, a teammate of Jason Carr, Michigan gymnastics coach Bev Plocki, former Michigan football player Mike Martin and Deborah Brown, the wife of Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown.
Deb Brown won the event, which raised $84,000 raised for the ChadTough Foundation.
But for Mia, the last to dance — she performed a swing dance and fox trot — the evening was the most personal. She danced Thursday for Colt.
“I wouldn’t really like to see anyone go through what he and everyone with it is going through, because it’s just horrible,” Mia DelVerne said. “And I want to find a cure for DIPG, because it’s just awful.”
Jeff DelVerne said Mia and Colt were each other’s yin and yang. They spoke the same language and had similar personalities.
“They were both very loud, life of the party, not scared to get up and dance,” Jeff said. “Colt was a big dancer, liked to entertain. Mia’s always been into that.”
Colt was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a brain tumor, when he was 4, so the DelVernes and their four children had already endured plenty when he was later diagnosed with DIPG. The family has remained positive throughout, and Jeff credits the research that has been available because of ChadTough for giving them a few extra months with Colt.
“Being with ChadTough, they were able to provide options, so gratitude is probably a good word,” Jeff DelVerne said. “They said he would live three or four months, and we ended up with 12. I’d say seven of the months were fantastic. He wasn’t even sick. It’s hard to be sad when we were given hope and we were given really a little bit of bonus time on life. We didn’t squander it, so we have a more positive attitude how things turned out.”
The family went white water rafting, skiing in the Rocky Mountains, rode horses, and spent as much time as possible together.
“We didn’t waste a second,” Jeff said. “We don’t have any regrets because of that.
“We’re paying it forward. Our hope, next year’s event, maybe we provide, instead of seven good months, maybe a family gets 10 good months. In two years, maybe instead of 10, maybe 12 or 13 and maybe we’re here in 10 years, and they get five to 10 years. We’re committed to helping the Carrs in any way we can.”
Jansen, who had a lengthy NFL career, practiced for three months to participate in the Dancing event. All of the dancers take lessons from Arthur Murray studios.
“When Tammi or Jason or coach call, as long as you can do it and do the required effort, the answer is always going to be, ‘Yes,’” he said.
Jansen joked he’s a “hit at weddings” but had never taken lessons. He attended the event with his daughters, Lucy and Ruby, and wanted them to understand that it’s not a bad thing to sometimes step out of your comfort zone.
“I was talking to them on the way over here because of what I did, there’s a lot of people who want to associate with what I do now,” he said. “Athletes have a platform. I’m a former athlete, and I don’t have a huge platform, but I do have one that if we can raise some money and help find a cure, if nothing else, if you get one more day with your kid, that’s a win. Anybody would take a day. If you could turn that into a week, a month or year, that’s worth every effort that we have.”
Mia said she learned much from Colt.
“He taught me you should find joy in little things, because he did that,” she said. “For me, I’m going to have fun, because he loved a lot.”
She smiled brightly when asked how much she misses her brother.
“I miss him a lot,” Mia said. “A LOT.”