Nearly 150 people gathered at Raspberry Falls Golf and Hunt Club to show their support for the family of Mathias Giordano and to raise funds for children’s cancer. (Photo by Josh Apple)
Leesburg, VA (Apr. 29, 2016) – Teary eyed and with a full heart, Parker Graham struggled his way through his obligatory pre-round speech, attempting to kick off the third annual Team Mathias Charity Golf Tournament at Raspberry Falls Golf and Hunt Club on April 27. This may be the third time Graham has given the speech, but it never gets easier.
The former Loudoun County golfer and current freshman on the Lynchburg College golf team had a life changing moment when he met a boy battling pediatric cancer named Mathias Giordano in the fall of 2013. At that time, Graham was in the midst of his junior year and was fighting through a major slump on the golf course.
In the final regular season match for Loudoun County, Graham had a short putt to cap off an undefeated season for the Raiders. He would miss the putt and his team would lose in a playoff, snapping the perfect season.
“I was at a point where I wanted to give up the game after that high school season was over, and I told my parents that,” he said, “and that was tough because I had been playing since I was two years old and I hadn’t thought about anything but golf.”
Graham had been playing golf since he was a toddler and had been working at Raspberry Falls since the eighth grade. Golf was his life and all he knew; yet he was ready to quit the game he loved out of frustration.
Missing that short putt was not the real life-changing event that day, however. That same night Graham talked himself into setting aside the clubs for good, the real momentous experience was about to transpire.
This was the moment he saw Mathias, rewriting both of their lives.
Once Graham and the Raiders arrived back at school following their crushing defeat, the volleyball team just so happened to be hosting an event for children’s cancer. Graham decided to check it out, thinking it may take his mind off golf for the evening.
“I saw Mathias across the gym with an amputated leg and he was in his wheel chair because he had just had it amputated,” Graham said. “And I just remember the one thing I saw was the smile on his face, and that if he could smile through all that then I immediately thought I could play a round of golf without getting mad at myself.”
Graham witnessed a 12-year-old boy fighting for his life with a smile, making a missed putt or bad golf shot seem insignificant.
“That really put things into perspective for me and I realized I needed to change my attitude,” he said.
Despite this life-altering epiphany, he did not speak of his newfound attitude to anyone, including his parents. One week later, Graham competed in the district high school tournament and finished fourth, advancing to regionals as an individual and turning around his struggles on the course at last.
“That night after the tournament, my parents asked what had gotten into me and I told them I changed my outlook on golf and on life, and that’s when I told them I saw Mathias,” Graham said. “I remember both of my parents in tears at the table because they realized I had that once-in-a-lifetime moment.”
Two days later, Graham and his family contacted Chris and Roya Giordano for the first time, the parents of Mathias. Having been an employee at Raspberry Falls, Graham knew that a charity golf outing could bring a lot of money and awareness to children’s cancer, which could ultimately help Mathias and his family. The two families communicated online and began planning the event.
“I officially met the family on Halloween that year because Mathias couldn’t trick or treat because he had his amputated leg,” Graham said. “I remember when I knocked on the door, his mom ran out and hugged me like she knew me for years and I had never met her.”
From that moment on, Graham became a member of the Giordano family. He would spend as much time as he could with Mathias, as well as Mathias’ younger brother, Troy. For Graham, it was liked he gained two little brothers.
“He [Graham] is like another family member, he came into the house for the first time and Mathias gravitated towards him, and Troy too, just like a brother,” Chris said.
The first Team Mathias Charity Golf Tournament was held in April of 2014, paving way for the annual event. However, Mathias would not be around for the second edition, as he tragically passed away in December of that year at age 13.
“The last thing he told me was to make this years’ tournament bigger than the last,” Graham said, “and I think he probably knew he wasn’t going to make it, but he was at peace with it because he had done so much for the community and he was a star among the community.”
What always stood out for Graham was Mathias’ unwavering positive outlook. Graham spoke at Mathias’ celebration of life in front of 1,500 people, proving this young boy was in fact a star among his community, and made a promise to be there for the family forever, especially for Troy.
“He [Mathias] made sure cancer never defined who he was, he wanted to be a regular kid and live like regular kids do,” Graham said.
The golf tournament grew and slogans like Team Mathias and Mathias Strong began to resonate throughout the community.
“We like to raise awareness for pediatric cancer and we like to keep his name and memory alive by doing something in the community,” Roya said, “bringing everyone together and having fun but raising awareness, letting people know that kids get cancer and that no one can fight alone.”
Not only did Graham open this year’s event with a speech, so too did Roya and Chris. All three struggled through their words, trying to hold back the tears of their fallen loved one.
“The first tournament, Mathias was here, so every year after we just want to keep reliving the moment of him being here with us. So every year when we’re out here we always feel his presence,” Chris said.
The Giordano family also created a new Virginia license plate with the words ‘Cure Childhood Cancer,’ which they were able to do with the help of Virginia Delegate Tag Greason, who sponsored the bill to create the new plates. Greason attended the golf tournament to show his support for the family and for the cause.
“In Virginia to create a license plate, you actually have to pass a law that allows the license plate to be created by the DMV,” Greason said. “You can’t pass that law unless you have a number of petitions, 450 people have to sign up. And I think the ‘Cure Childhood Cancer’ plate is well over 1,000, it skyrocketed past the 450 almost in the first couple weeks, so we were able to pass that law on behalf of Mathias.”
As the Giordano family, the Graham family and Greason continue to raise funds and awareness for children’s cancer in Northern Virginia, Parker left the nest to pursue collegiate golf.
Graham’s golf career turned around as soon as he laid eyes on Mathias that day as a junior at Loudoun County. He would finish his high school career reaching regionals three times as an individual, earning a spot on the roster at Lynchburg College.
“Playing in college was always my goal when I started playing in junior tournaments around the county and around the state,” Graham said. “I really started getting serious around eighth grade because I wanted to play so bad on the high school team.”
Although his collegiate career was in doubt at one time, his dream was ultimately fulfilled. Whenever he has a rough time on the golf course, his perspective on life gets him through the day, and he knows he has two families back home that consider him a son.
“It’s really amazing what he [Graham] has done,” Chris said, “he started this tournament which is just unbelievable, we can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for us.”
Viva Loudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Josh Apple
Special to Viva Loudoun