Show & Tell: Jamie Steele, Fundraising for Operation Smile | Still Playing School

Show & Tell: Jamie Steele, Fundraising for Operation Smile

By Devany LeDrew | Labels:
I wrote briefly about Jamie last year when he was raising money for Operation Smile, but this time he's back again to tell you in his own words why this is so important to him (and me).  We are also breaking the mold on our Show & Tell feature by interviewing a man.  All previous guests were women, but when I thought of this idea, I wanted to include men as well with two guys in mind, Jamie being one of them.

How do we know each other?

Man, we’ve known each other for what seems like forever. Your brother Andy and I have been best friends since preschool, pretty much…but I don’t think we officially “met” until I was in middle school. I lived right down the hill from you guys, so we rode the same bus to school. You were always really nice to me and I thought that was kind of weird because, usually, the older kids were mean to me. Actually, I was pretty untrusting of you being nice to me at first – mostly because you were dating a dude that kind of terrorized me. But, for the past decade…decade and a half, you’ve basically been my big sister. We hung out all the time when we were both at IUP and you and Rob and E (and D in your belly) were just up to visit us last summer!

The terrorizing dude is one of the reasons I wanted to befriend you!  He would talk about things you'd say and do in boy scouts, which just made me want to meet you more.  You sounded awesome (and you were)!  What is the most important thing we should know about you?

Um, I don’t know. I don’t really think I’m all that important. I’m a huge sports fan. Actually, I work on a sports radio show up here in Hartford. I book guests, run the social media stuff (Facebook, Twitter, blog), operate the sound board during shows, edit audio (sound bytes, highlights) and even get a little airtime every once in a while. I get paid to do it, but it’s not like a job at all. I thought I was going to write about sports, but I stumbled into the whole radio thing at school. I love it. Also, I guess I should mention that I was in the Air Force for 4 years, that was a big part of my life. And I do this thing every year…where I grow a beard during the NHL playoffs (Go Pens) and raise money for Operation Smile. Well, EVERY year is kind of a weird thing to say because this is only the second year I’ve done it…but, I plan on doing it for a long time. Probably until I can’t grow a beard anymore.

I can't imagine you unable to grow a beard.  Ever.  Tell us who you share your life with.

My wonderful, beautiful, smart and talented wife Lisa. I’m not entirely sure what I did right to have her fall in love with me and subsequently marry me (after staying together through 4 years of basically not seeing each other but 5 or 6 times per year while I was in the Air Force and she was finishing school at Penn State and moving to CT for an awesome job, but I’m glad I did it. Whatever it was. Being married to your best friend is pretty much the best thing ever.


I’m a very lucky guy.

You are both super lucky.  It's great to watch you together and know you're so happy.

We just recently bought a house up here, too…and one of the first things we did was adopt a dog! Her name is Maybelline and she’s part pitbull terrier and, we think, part Labrador retriever. Besides meeting each other and getting married, adopting Maybe is far and away the best thing Lisa and I have ever done. She’s smart and affectionate and just an overall awesome addition to our family.

E is about bursting to meet her!

You inspire me because of how you overcame being born with a cleft lip/palate and underwent multiple surgeries, always with a positive attitude. Can you talk a bit about your experiences?

Mostly, I don’t remember the stuff I went through. All but a couple of the surgeries were when I was really, really young. I remember I had something done when I was in 3rd grade, but the only thing I can recollect about it is sticking my head out the window on the way home from Pittsburgh so I could vomit, haha. Oh, and, my parents bought me Blades of Steel for Nintendo to play while I recovered (there’s perks to everything, I guess)! I did have one MAJOR surgery when I was a junior in high school, though. They surgically broke my jaw and reset it because I had a severe under bite. I think that was more cosmetic than anything…though I’m pretty sure it was for my sinuses and stuff, too…but, really, I can’t remember. All I know is I look better now than what I did before the surgeries, so who am I to complain? Haha.

But, my mindset was always, “I can’t really do anything about this, so let’s get it over with.” I knew the jaw surgery was coming for years – they had to wait until I was almost done growing so the bones wouldn’t reset or move again or something along those lines. So I guess, mentally, I was prepared for that one. And, honestly, I just wanted it to be over with. That last big one was the end of the line and I’d do pretty much anything to make sure that was it. And when it was over, all I wanted to do was gain back the weight I had lost (I think I went from about 175 to 150 during the jaw recovery…it was a milkshake and Carnation Instant Breakfast diet for me for 2 or 3 weeks. And let me tell you, Carnation Instant Breakfasts suck. A lot.) so that I could play football again. I missed about a month of school that year so that I didn’t put my senior year of football into jeopardy. My parents were cool like that.

What was your situation like as a child? Who supported you most? What were the hardest struggles?

Like I said, I can’t really remember much about it being a kid. I know there were a LOT of trips out to Children’s in Pittsburgh for checkups and stuff. Lots of orthodontist appointments, too. But, it’s all I ever knew; it was normal for me. It’s just what I did. My parents were great about everything growing up. I mean, I just mentioned them scheduling the last and biggest surgery during the school year when I was a junior so it wouldn’t interfere with my junior year of football (I lettered that year) or my senior year when I was slated to be a starter. So that was a pretty big deal to me – football was practically my whole life from 3rd grade on and losing out on the best and final years would’ve really sucked.

My friends were great, too. The jaw surgery, it completely changed the way I looked. I was extremely self-conscious coming back to school after a month of not being there or, really, seeing anyone while I was out. But when I got back, it was like I never left…and hadn’t changed at all. I mean, I knew the change to my appearance was for the good…but, still. It was kind of dramatic. And everyone was awesome. You, in particular, came by the house when I was recovering and brought me a card and balloon. That balloon hung on my wall for YEARS. It really meant a lot to me, I don’t know if I ever told you that. My heart swells when I think about that.

Aw, you and Lisa have always supported us, too.  That's what a strong friendship is all about!  

On a side note – during my recovery, I decided it would be a good idea to start dying my hair blonde. Bizarre move, right?

No, it suited you.  I am particularly fond of when we dyed it bright red for you in college, too.

What can you tell us about Operation Smile? 

Well, I think I first heard about Operation Smile through my mom. I thought it was cool what they were doing, I know how much the cleft lip and palate affected my life fixed…so it would be exceedingly hard living a life dealing with a cleft lip/palate or both that weren’t repaired. I never really did anything about it myself, though. Then, one day after I moved up to CT, there were people collecting money outside of WalMart for Operation Smile. I donated a couple of bucks, because…well, because that’s me, you know? I got a free shirt and would wear it from time-to-time, and it was always in the back of my mind that I’d like to help raise money somehow for them someday.

I love this cause also.  I'm super excited that our Charlie Banana diaper purchases give back 1% of their sales worldwide to Operation Smile, too!   How did your fundraising exceed your expectations last year? What are your plans this year? 

Last year when the playoffs started and I saw all the Beard-A-Thon posts and ads, I figured I’d try it. Most people just sign up for their favorite team’s charity, but I thought this would be a perfect chance for me to raise some money for a cause that was really, really important to me. And thus, “Beards For Smiles” was born. And my year-old beard met its demise.

Man, I miss that thing. And Lisa hated it equally.

Anyway, I figured I’d raise $500 – each surgery was $248…but $500 is such a nicer, rounder, more even number and I’m weird like that. I hit $500 before the playoffs even started and ended up raising $2,244. Just typing that number seems ridiculous…my friends and family are so generous. And since it was such a swimming success last year, I figured I’d up the ante and try to raise $2,500 this year. That makes me nervous, because it’s such a high number…but if I can get there, I’ll be extremely happy. Obviously.  So, uh…go donate!

You'd be helping 10 kids get their surgeries!  That gives me goosebumps just thinking about it!  

What are your other passions?

Well, like I said, I’m a big sports guy. I love hockey, obviously, specifically the Pittsburgh Penguins. I like to write (I should really start blogging again).

Yes, yes you should.

And I like a good beer. But really, my life revolves around sports.

Who are some people you admire and why?

I mean, there’s always guys like Bill Murray and Hunter S. Thompson and Joe Montana and Kris Letang (that hair!) and Chris Jericho (everything he does is amazing).

In true Chris Jericho fashion, I'm going to interrupt you right there to share with our readers that our mutual love for Jericho has been a driving force of our friendship since around 1996!  The original Jerichoholics!  Ahem, sorry, go on.

 …but whenever I hear the word admire, a couple of things or people come to mind.

The first might sound a little strange, but I’ve always been really proud of Lisa for coming up here after college. She was supposed to move down to North Carolina to be with me, but job-wise things just didn’t work out. So, instead, she moved even further away from me to a place where she didn’t know anyone. She stayed in a hotel for a couple of weeks while she looked for an apartment. I always really admired that she was brave enough to do that. It wasn’t just her, either. The two girls that are our really good friends up here did the same thing – one from New Jersey and the other from Montana. It’s kind of weird they found each other. But that’s always impressed me about those girls…something like that isn’t easy to do.

And when I think about people I admire my grandfather always comes to mind. I saw him battle diabetes for a long time. He was always such a big presence, booming voice and a great personality and that never really changed…but I watched him lose a toe and have to go to dialysis a few times a week and lose a lot of his ability to just get around, and nothing seemed to phase him. He was just a tough, tough man. And also the biggest sweetheart I can think of. When I was a baby he made me a tape where he sang, like, the ABCs and the Christmas song where Santa’s up on the rooftop (click click click)…whatever the name of it is. I have it on my iPod, now…and I have to be careful when I have it on shuffle because whenever I hear that big voice, it immediately makes me tear up. Mom played it for me at Christmas 5 or 6 years ago and it was the first time I had heard it in years and I just…bawled. He was just such a great man, I still miss him.

He and my gramma were a big part of that support system you asked about, too. I don’t know how I forgot to include them in the answer to that question. We lived with them for a lot of my first 4 years and they were young (both 42 when I was born) so they were basically a second set of parents rather than grandparents most of the time. Actually, they were the ones that went and got me at the hospital after I was born because my mom was sick. Both of them were always a huge part of that part of my life.

That was really sappy, haha.

You come from such a long line of great people!  Where can readers find you to learn more?

Well, I have a Facebook and a Twitter and my “Beards for Smiles” fund raising, donation drive thingy has a Facebook page (please LIKE and tell him SPS sent you) and the actual donation page is here and, if I may cheaply plug where I work, I run the Fox Sports Radio Facebook page, The Paul Nanos Show’s blog and The Paul Nanos Show’s Twitter account. So, you can contact me and learn about my cause through at least most of those places.

Sometimes I feel like my whole life revolves around the Internet!

If we didn't have the internet, we wouldn't be able to stay in touch as well as we do.  So I'm glad we are both very active online because I'm very fortunate to have you as an additional "little brother!"  Love you!


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