By Brittany Alvarado
When thinking about the responsibilities of a 10-year-old, what comes to mind? Certainly not being a caregiver for a parent. In an ideal world, it should be the other way around.
Quai (pronounced Kway) Jefferson didn’t mind that he was the exception. When Quai was just 6-years-old, his mother, Vaida, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
By the age of 10, Quai stepped up as the man of the house making sure chores were taken care of, but most importantly, making sure that his mother was happy and healthy. He learned how to take his mother’s blood pressure and inject her twice a day with a drug that eases the symptoms of MS. Quai wasn’t living the “typical” life of a 10-year-old, but he simply did it all with no complaints, and without it taking focus away from his academics and athletics.
Quai’s fight to overcome the curve balls that life threw at him molded him into a stellar student-athlete. A recent graduate of St. Joseph’s High School in Montvale, NJ, Quai was a two-sport athlete excelling in both football and basketball. In the classroom, Quai managed to continuously make the honor roll. Throughout his life, Quai provided plenty of inspiration for his mother, teammates, and anyone lucky enough to be touched by his story.
Little did he know that his journey inspired many other people, people he would not have expected. That’s where the New York Yankees come in.
Success on the field is no stranger to the 27-time World Champion Bronx Bombers, but it’s what they contribute off the field that truly makes them great.
In 2009, the Yankees created HOPE Week, an initiative that stands for Helping Others Persevere & Excel. The team spends the entire week focusing on helping others and sending out the message that anyone can make a difference. On each day, the Yankees highlight a different individual, family, or organization worthy of support and appreciation. The honorees receive special recognition and share their incredible journies and sacrifices with the Yankees, fans, and media.
June 20, 2014 was supposed to be a relatively normal day for Quai and Vaida. Quai’s family members told him his school was hosting a BBQ in his honor to recognize his athletic accomplishments.
Anxiously awaiting his arrival at the school were family, friends, media members, and behind the scenes, the New York Yankees. Quai entered the St. Joseph’s courtyard pushing his mother in her wheelchair. He was all smiles, while Vaida cried tears of joy and held Quai’s hand.
Yankees media relations director Jason Zillo stood next to Quai, and emotionally addressed everyone in attendance. Quai’s suspicions of something more grew immensely. As Zillo held back tears while speaking about Quai, right around the corner was the surprise of a lifetime.
One by one, out came Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, followed by eight of his teammates, including: pitchers Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Dellin Betances, Jose Ramirez, catcher Brian McCann, second baseman Kelly Johnson, short stop Brendan Ryan, and third baseman Yangervis Solarte.
Teixeira asked Quai, “Can we crash your party?”
“It’s a small thing that we can do for the community that does so much for us,” Teixeira said. “As the New York Yankees we have so much support from our community and for us to be here for Quai and his mom, and to share their story with others, it’s an important day.”
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” Quai told MLB.com. “My family knew. But they didn’t say a word. They set me up real good.”
Heroes and legends are known to leave their mark on New York Yankees history, but it was Quai, the one not in pinstripes, who left a major footprint in the heart of the Yankees organization.
“Here’s a kid who had all the pressures of school and athletics and going to college and at the same time taking care of his mom full time,” Teixeira said. “That’s just an unbelievable feat for a kid so young and he has done everything and more that you could expect out of a young student-athlete.”
“I thought about the situation and if I was put in his shoes and what he’s had to deal with and overcome, it’s inspirational to any human,” McCann said. “To be an athlete, that went through high school, for him to excel and for all the stuff he’s had to go through is pretty amazing.”
After spending the afternoon posing for pictures and doing a flood of interviews for some of the nation’s biggest media outlets, Quai was able to spend some one-on-one time with the Yankees. It was a special time to just talk about life and connect with players on a level that not many people get to experience.
Next up was Yankee Stadium, where Quai threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the game against the Baltimore Orioles that night. Quai reportedly joked that he wanted to make sure his pitch was more successful than 50 Cent’s memorable toss at Citi Field this past May. Quai’s result: A perfect strike down the middle to Yankees infielder Brendan Ryan.
The Yankees ended HOPE Week, not only with a walk-off win courtesy of a three-run homer by Carlos Beltran, but by handing out a life-changing experience.
The story of Quai and Vaida Jefferson is truly inspiring and goes to show the impact of selflessness. Through all the ups and downs, never did Quai complain about the life that he was given. Never did he ask himself “Why me?”
“God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers,” Quai said to the NY Post. “A lot of people go through tough times and my story kind of shows them that even though you can hit rock bottom, you can come out on top. So no matter what, you put your best foot forward and everything will be taken care of.”
Quai’s next step is to go on and play football at the University of Delaware, where he received a full scholarship. Obviously, Vaida will always be his number one fan. Now he’ll have the chance to touch the lives of others and can continue to demonstrate that you don’t have to help everyone, but you do have to help encourage everyone to help someone.