People were waiting.
It was an early June afternoon in a small northeast Iowa town, and a crowd was expecting to speak with rookie Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell.
Just minutes before, Jewell had exchanged vows with his new bride, Micole, and as the reception began, guests were eager to congratulate the new couple at the reception.
But Jewell was busy.
He stood away from the crowd and carried on a 10-minute conversation about his first round of organized team activities, where he fit in a 3-4 defense and what it was like to be a rookie for the Denver Broncos.
Logan Manderfield was on the other end of the conversation.
Two years earlier, the pair had never met. But Logan — an avid teenage sports fan battling Duschenne muscular dystrophy — and Jewell became fast friends.
And on a day typically reserved for people’s closest friends and family, Jewell reserved time to talk to Logan.
“Josey’s leaning over to him, it’s just the neatest thing,” Logan’s father, Don, remembers. “It’s his special day, umpteen million people wanting to talk to him and ask him about how training camp is going. And he took the time out of his special day to talk to our son. What a neat thing.”
During Logan’s nearly 14-year battle with Duchenne, the Manderfields have learned to appreciate those moments.
Thanks to Jewell, they’ve had plenty.
Don and Lyndsey, Logan's mother, started to notice something was wrong when Logan was about a year old.
He wasn’t reaching developmental milestones, including attempting to crawl or walk or pull himself up.
The first time they saw a pediatrician in Iowa City, though, they didn’t come away with many answers.
The family was told to monitor Logan’s development and, if he didn’t show improvement, to bring him back in three months.
Three months became five, and a 16-month-old Logan still wasn’t walking. That’s when he was moved to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital for a blood test. And that’s when Lyndsey and Don finally got some answers.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) was the official diagnosis.
“I’m looking at this little boy sitting in a stroller next to me, and he looks fine,” Lyndsey said in 2017. “But the damage was happening on the inside, and we just didn’t know it.”
In Logan’s words, Duchenne makes your muscles weaker, which prevents you from running and makes it harder to walk up steps.
The Muscular Dystrophy Association defines it this way: as a genetic disorder that stems from a lack of dystrophin, a protein that maintains muscle cells. Without the dystrophin, one’s muscles degenerate and become weaker. It primarily affects boys, and most people show symptoms between the ages of 3 and 5.
There is no cure.
Lyndsey had never even heard of the disease. But in an instant, it shattered her and Don’s perception of what life with Logan would be.
“All these hopes and dreams that you think you’d normally have for your children aren’t necessarily going to be those hopes and dreams anymore,” Don said in 2017.
After a recent late-season practice, Jewell heads in from practice and sits briefly at his locker. He peels off his practice jersey and cleats. After a few more meetings, he’ll be free to head home for the day and get much-needed rest.
He’s grabbing a towel as a reporter walks up to him.
“Do you have a minute to talk about Logan?”
Almost instantly, Jewell seems to relax. And for the next 15 minutes, he talks about how he met his friend.
One thing becomes clear as Jewell talks: This isn’t a one-sided relationship — and this certainly isn’t charity.
Jewell views Logan as an equal, as a friend.
In Jewell’s view, Logan’s just another good guy from northeastern Iowa.
“After I talked with him, I really liked him,” Jewell says. “I really liked what he stood for. He’s a tough kid, been through a lot with that kind of stuff. I just liked his mindset. I liked talking to him, getting to know him. He’s a cool dude.”
They first met back in 2016 when Jewell surprised Logan at the inaugural Logan’s Hope 5K.
After years of attending bowl-a-thons and walks and other fundraisers, Lyndsey and Don had been looking for a way to raise money for Duchenne research. Both of them had participated in 5Ks before and enjoyed running, so the event seemed to make sense.
And Logan’s Hope, which had become the family’s mantra, was a natural name for the run.
They held the run in Decorah, Iowa — Jewell’s hometown — and the local fire department arranged for him to make an appearance. When he first showed up, Logan had no idea who he was.
“I [just] knew he was a football player for sure with how big and muscular he was,” Logan says.
Because Logan couldn’t participate in the run, he and Jewell drove the course while everybody else jogged.
“That was nice,” Jewell says with a smile. “I wouldn’t [want] to run it anyway.”
The run and the friendship both grew quickly.
After raising $10,000 the first year, Don says Logan’s Hope garnered more than $21,000 in Year 3. The Manderfields now have corporate sponsors for the event, and the funds are earmarked specifically for Duchenne research.
Meanwhile, Jewell just kept coming back. He attended the run again in 2017 and was planning on going in 2018 before a last-minute sponsorship obligation pulled him away. But it’s the time between the runs where their relationship has grown most.
The two send texts back and forth, which has meant plenty to Don and Lyndsey.
“Even a simple text, it’s hard to even imagine what that means to a kid who’s going through the struggles that he goes through,” Don says. “That somebody like Josey would take the time to text him like that, how neat is that?”
Jewell has done more than just send a few texts. On Saturday night, Jewell will wear a pair of personalized Logan’s Hope cleats for the third consecutive game as part of the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats initiative.
He says Logan’s Hope is the cause to which he’s closest.
“I really could talk to him, relate to him,” Jewell says. “I just felt there was a big connection there. Why not do it for him?”
Another little thing for Jewell. Another “pinch me” moment for the Manderfields as they see an NFL player raise awareness for the disease their son is fighting.
“One of the things that I’ve learned since Logan was diagnosed is you have to appreciate all the little things and all the big things,” Lyndsey says. “So even the little things that Josey has done. I guess they’re not little things. … To him maybe they’re little, but to us they’re huge. For him to come to a 5K in the middle of summer when I’m sure he’s got 10,000 other things to do. Just to take that hour and make Logan feel special — maybe it’s a little thing to him, but it’s a really big thing to us.
“[We’re] just appreciating those small moments, those big moments. Just absorbing everything.”
The Manderfields have long been Iowa Hawkeye fans.
Several years ago — back when Lyndsey’s cousin was on the team — the family would grab their season tickets and make the two-hour drive south to Iowa City to watch him play at Kinnick Stadium.
There, among nearly 70,000 other Hawkeye fans donned in gold and black, they cheered for a team of college athletes who have been elevated to something more.
“In Iowa, we don’t have professional football,” Lyndsey says. “So our college athletes are kind of celebrities. They’re superstars in our minds.”
In 2017, Jewell videochatted Logan to tell him he’d be joining those superstars on the field as one of the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital kid captains.
The program, which began in 2009 to celebrate the stories of pediatric patients, honors a different kid during each Hawkeye game. And for those who are chosen for home games, the day is enough to give anyone chills.
When it was Logan’s turn, his mom warned him they probably wouldn’t win their matchup against the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. But he did his best to fire up the home crowd anyway.
Dressed in a black Iowa jersey, yellow gloves and a striped Hawkeye hat, Logan rose from his wheelchair and walked to midfield. Like a defensive player on third down, he swung his arms in the air to get the crowd going.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Iowa throttled Ohio State that night, 55-24.
Imagine for a moment what it must have been like for Lyndsey and Don to see their child on that field.
To watch him stand on the sideline between one of the best linebackers in Iowa history and one of the best coaches in Iowa history.
To hear tens of thousands of people cheer for their son.
To feel something in their heart that’s a mix of pride and love but ultimately can’t be described.
“It gives you goosebumps, because they’re all cheering for him,” Lyndsey says.
Now, imagine what it’s like to be Logan.
To stand alongside your heroes.
To have those players not just say that they care, but to have them mean it.
“What a special day to give those kids with all the struggles that they go through,” Don says. “It lets you forget about all of those struggles and just gives you a day to remember, a memory and hope.”
That’s what Iowa football did for Logan, Lyndsey and Don.
That’s what Jewell did for them.
The summer before Logan walked out onto the field with Jewell and the Hawkeyes, Iowa’s offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz spoke to that season’s group of kid captains.
They had already met the senior football players and been given a jersey and a poster.
But the message from Ferentz perhaps meant more.
“‘You guys are the ones that are strong,’” Lyndsey remembers Ferentz saying. “‘You are fighting harder and you are tougher than any of these football players.’
“That really meant a lot to me that he recognized these kids are fighting every day. They might not be as physically tough as these football players, but they sure are fighters mentally.”
Fight, Logan has.
At 15 years old, he remains ambulatory. There are challenges, certainly: He uses a wheelchair for long distances and his bones are more likely to fracture than other kids his age. He falls more often, as well. He takes lots of medication, and one of those side effects has stunted his growth. At 15, Logan stands about 4-foot-4.
Stand, Logan does. He is still walking and ambulatory.
“For being 15 with Duchenne, he’s doing pretty well,” Lyndsey says.
He’s doing well enough to serve as the manager for several of his school’s athletic teams, to swim and to keep tabs on the Hawkeyes and Broncos (and Cowboys, for which Jewell gives him a pass).
And Logan’s also doing well enough to show up at Jewell’s wedding and discuss how the linebacker’s game fits well in Denver’s 3-4 defense.
That’s not to say Logan would’ve ever guessed he’d be friends with Jewell.
Predicting Iowa could beat the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes takes confidence. Predicting this story? More.
“I would’ve said no way,” Logan says. “I wouldn’t expect that an NFL player would be friends with me.“
For Jewell, though, inviting Logan and spending time with him that day made sense.
It doesn’t much matter that Jewell is a 23-year-old NFL linebacker and Logan is a 15-year-old student battling Duchenne muscular dystrophy.
“It’s not a one-way train, here,” Jewell says. “He’s not just benefiting. I’m benefiting from him. Just look in the mirror every day and understand what you’ve got. Understand … you can lose it any day. Play every play like it’s your last, live every day like it’s your last. I think that’s huge.”
On Jewell’s special day, he wanted to be surrounded by friends.
With Logan by his side, that wasn’t even a question.
To learn more about Logan’s Hope, click here.
To learn more about Duschenne muscular dystrophy or donate to the cause, click here.
**All photos of Logan are courtesy of Lyndsey and Don Manderfield**