When senior Ian Makowske competes for the No. 6 Michigan men’s gymnastics team on Saturday against Big Ten rival Ohio State, it will be Senior Night at Cliff Keen Arena. But instead of celebrating his final home meet, Makowske has bigger plans for Saturday.
Since this past summer, Makowske has been volunteering for the foundation Mikey’s Way, which was founded by Michael Friedman, one of Makowske’s high-school friends who was diagnosed with a severe type of stomach cancer at 16.
Based out of Connecticut — Makowske’s home state — the foundation collects used video games and video systems to recycle and turn into money. Mikey’s Way then uses the profit to buy new video games and electronic devices, which it then gives to pediatric cancer patients.
“In (Mikey’s) experience with treatment, he understood how boring it was,” Makowske said Monday. “In addition to being very scary and stressful, it was difficult to spend so much time in between treatments. Because he experienced this, he realized it was important that these kids had something to distract them.”
Unfortunately, Friedman lost his battle with cancer in September 2008. His father Les took over as the CEO of the foundation and has turned it into a nationwide organization.
Friedman was the valedictorian of his and Makowske’s high-school class, composed his own music and studied at Harvard during his freshman year. While at Harvard, he did cancer research, and in 2006 he had an essay published in a medical journal. All of these accomplishments were secondary to starting his foundation, Mikey’s Way.
Since the Fall, Makowske has been diligently working to get Mikey’s Way set up at Michigan. The boxes at the Union and League will be placed on March 19 and remain there until March 26. These dates honor Friedman’s birthday, March 27. The gymnastics team will also have collection boxes outside its competition on Saturday.
“There will be a discounted admissions price for anybody who brings a video game,” Makowske said. “I’ve done my best to get the word out all over campus, so I really expect anything from one video game to hundreds.”
Though Makowske has put a lot of time into the preparing for these collections, his routines haven’t suffered — he currently ranks seventh in the NCAA on the high bar. Balancing practice every day and competitions on the weekends hasn’t deterred him from working for the foundation either.
And if juggling running a fundraiser and gymnastics isn’t enough, he is also finishing up his senior year. Though he has a light workload — only 17 credits in two semesters — school is school, especially for someone with a 3.9 GPA.
“It’s definitely been busy the past couple of weeks,” Makowske said. “I’ve been running around putting flyers all up through campus and chalking the Diag. It’s tough to balance it with gymnastics. But to be honest; it’s really been a great experience.”
Friedman’s parents came to Makowske and asked him to lead a fundraiser at Michigan, which he could have turned down. Instead, he took the challenge head on.
When Makowske competes on Saturday, it will be for more than just Michigan or senior night. He will be competing in honor of his friend.
“One of the things he always said that I have on my wall right now is, ‘Always be uplifting,’ ” Makowske said. “And this is my last chance, as a senior, to bring Mikey’s Way to Michigan. It’s nice to feel that you’re making a difference in other people’s lives. Mikey was always so supportive of my gymnastics, so this is the least I can do for him and everything he’s done.”