Editor's Note: This is the full version of a letter that Kerry O'Donnell wrote to Head Coach John Harbaugh on behalf of her family member, Sherry Huggler. Huggler, who has Multiple Sclerosis and recently suffered stroke from diabetes, says the Ravens helped her turn her life around.The letter inspired Harbaugh and he also read it to the team as motivation. The Ravens invited O'Donnell and Huggler to the Under Armour Performance Center Friday to meet with the team and watch practice.
Dear Coach Harbaugh:
I am not sure you will receive this but I felt the need to write anyway and thank you. I wanted you to know the profound impact that you and the Ravens team have had on one woman's life. I am not in the habit of writing strangers but I felt the need to tell you this and thank you personally for everything you have done, even though you have no idea you have done it.
I live with and assist a family member who has had a challenging life to say the least. Her name is Sherry Huggler and she is 54 years old. In 1986 she was involved in a horrible car accident that broke her back, legs, ankles and left her in a body cast for 6 months. She was lucky to survive it. The recovery was long and painful and she was left with a permanent disability that causes her physical pain and limitations to this day. In 1999 she was suddenly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Again a long battle that took away some mobility and left her struggling to function. In January 2012 at the age of 52 she suffered a stroke. It was two days before your play off game. She spent the night of the game watching from her hospital bed not knowing what was to become of her, or even if she would survive it, but she watched anyway. Her stroke was based on untreated diabetes and high blood pressure. She was well over 300 pounds at the time and home bound. She did not have a life to speak of. Not long after the stroke as she was recovering at home we made the decision that we needed to make some changes in our lives, to save our lives. I myself was well over 300 pounds, in my late 40's and heading for the same fate as she if I did not do something about it. Not long after we made that decision I learned that Ray Rice was doing an autograph signing approximately 3 hours from our home. Ray Rice was Sherry's favorite Raven, I had even brought her his jersey from home while she was in the hospital for good luck. I thought I would surprise her with a ticket to this signing for her to go meet Ray. I thought it might cheer her up after this latest health crisis. I knew it would be challenging to make the trip as this was the first time in almost 23 years that we had gone anywhere more then 5 minutes from our home. Because of our health and weight we rarely traveled far from home. We went to the signing, she met Ray and she was touched by how nice he was. Not long after that another signing came about with Torrey Smith. We decided to go to this one as well. As we sat in the car heading to the signing Sherry said to me that she was enjoying going to meet the guys so much and she felt so alive for the first time in her life.
Over the course of the next year as she struggled to recover from the stroke, we continued to go meet Ravens players whenever they were doing public appearances. It wasn't that we were collectors of autographs or memorabilia, it was the trip and meeting the fellows that filled her with an excitement and love of life that she had not experienced in a long time. Each trip was like being given her life back. Sometimes because of the distance and because of her mobility issues it was tough to make the trek, but the look on her face and the pure happiness I saw in her eyes when we would go were worth any struggle to get there. We traveled most of the time 2 to 3 hours to get to these signings as we live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We followed everything about the Ravens including reading the motivational things that you would say to the players. Sherry one day told me that she had read that Ray Lewis had started riding a bike to get in shape. She said she wanted to try to ride a bike. Because of her MS and the stroke she has balance issues so we were concerned about how she could do this. She had never been able to ride a bike before. We found her a 3 wheel adult trike that she could ride. She began riding it every day. Each day she would ride it she would say "I am stacking days like Coach Harbaugh says". She never missed a day of riding. She began losing weight. I believe it was in May we heard that Ray Lewis was doing a signing in Glen Burnie, Maryland. We purchased a ticket and went to meet him. She wanted to tell him how she had been motivated by his bike riding and by his speeches on the sidelines. She wanted him to know what affect it had had on her and how thankful she was. I told her I didn't think there would be time to tell him all of that since they sort of herd you in and out quickly in these signings. She was determined that she would tell him. When we approached the table where he was sitting she walked up to him and said "Mr. Lewis I need to tell you something..." and then with everything she had and as quickly as she could she told him about her stroke and her MS and how he had motivated her to ride and how thankful she was to him and to all of the Ravens for giving her her life back. He took her hand in both of his and looked as if he was going to cry. At this point she is crying, I am crying, the people in line behind us are crying. Mr. Lewis told her to not give up, to keep pushing, keep doing it. He was so caring and so genuine it was truly inspiring. This was a profound moment in both of our lives.
In the year that followed the Ravens were a driving force in our battle to regain our lives and our health. We managed to go to a few games, despite the long travel and the cost which was tough on her disability. But she was determined to see a live game. It was something she wanted to do before she died. We met more players, we met more Ravens fans who became like family to us. And she kept riding her bike. She spoke of facing each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. She talked about stacking days. By Superbowl time her doctor had removed her from all of her medications. She had lost over 100 pounds, and was no longer considered diabetic. The doctor was amazed. She said she was the poster child for turning her health around with diet and exercise. She told the doctor about going to see "her guys". She told her about how she had been able to see a live game and how much it meant to her. Just this week she graduated from a three wheel trike to a real two wheeled bicycle. She has plans to ride the Great Allegheny Passage on her bike next year. Sherry attributes it to the motivation and the joy she has gotten from the Ravens.
Sherry is the strongest, most positive person I have ever know. Despite everything she has been through in life she never let's it get her down. She has begun motivating others to change their lives, to become more concerned with what they eat and staying active. She never cries about what could have been or what may happen down the road. She enjoys every moment of life and always says "I'm happy. I have my family, I have my life, I have my health now and I have my Ravens". She is truly an inspiration and she has gotten much of HER inspiration from you and the Ravens. We won't be going to any live games this year because of financial issues, but we recently drove up to Owings Mills because she just wanted to "see the Castle" once in her life. Of course we only were able to drive into the road leading into the training facility before having to turn around. But she took a picture of it and has been using it as her person training motivator in this off season ever since. She says that her guys are in there training and she is in training as well.
I know this email may sound silly, but I really wanted to tell you how important you have been in her recovery. I don't know what would have happened with her had we not had had (as our friends like to say) "the Ravens year", but I know that she would not have been as happy and as motivated and I seriously don't think she would have recovered like she did. So thank you Coach Harbaugh and please pass the thanks on to your players as well. Every one of them, whether we were able to meet them in person or if we were only able to enjoy watching them play each Sunday, have inadvertently provided a life saving inspiration for a couple of middle aged ladies on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and we are forever grateful.