Sally LeBlanc Zimmer was kneeling at the grave of her daughter Mya on Wednesday afternoon, clearing space for the Christmas flowers she planned to lay.
Zimmer’s phone rang. And the caller was letting her know that Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who had once dated Mya, was going to wear special cleats in her memory this Sunday afternoon.
Landry will wear cleats with the words “CYSTIC FIBROSIS FOUNDATION” in large, bold block letters, above an orange Nike swoosh.
“She would have been elated,” LeBlanc Zimmer said from Lutcher, La. “He could have chosen 1,000 other charities, but he’s doing this in her honor. She’ll be there with him on Sunday.”
Jarvis was in high school when he met Mya and for years they remained close friends.
On July 21, 2015, Mya Marie Zimmer passed away, after a long battle with Cystic Fibrosis.
She was 24.
“She was really like my first love,” Landry said Wednesday. “I was with her going through the breathing treatments, the masks, the vests. This is one of those things that I wanted to do, something to help those who are going through what she went through. I told her that this is something I will always stand behind and that I will make sure to keep my promise.”
Landry has partnered with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation before. And when the NFL asked players to consider which charities they might want to highlight on custom cleats this weekend, the choice for Landry was easy.
Mya’s mother became emotional and felt there was a reason she was learning of Landry’s gesture while at her daughter’s grave.
“I am crying my eyes out right now,” she said. “Mya knew Jarvis would make something of himself and she was so happy for him. I am so elated he is wearing those cleats because I feel like her determination and zest for life was instilled in him.”
Cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. In people with CF, a defective gene causes a thick, buildup of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs.
More than 30,000 Americans are living with cystic fibrosis (more than 70,000 worldwide).
Today, the median predicted survival age is close to 40. This is a dramatic improvement from the 1950s, when a child with CF rarely lived long enough to attend elementary school.
Landry said he was inspired that Zimmer pursued her dreams of dance, despite the immense challenges of Cystic Fibrosis. Zimmer even became a member of the New Orleans Hornets dance team.
“Her heart was special,” Landry said. “She danced her tail off. She didn’t let the CF get her down.”
But there were times that Mya was down, according to her mother. And in many of those tough moments, a call from Landry lifted her spirits.
“Jarvis never lost contact with Mya,” LeBlanc Zimmer said. “He called her when she was in the hospital, which was often, for years. Cystic Fibrosis was a vital part of Jarvis’ life. And now I can see Jarvis inspiring a lot of people. And helping a lot of people.”
Mya passed away after complications following a lung transplant, which doctors told her she needed to have a chance to survive. Her mother said she is still receiving notes from little girls from Mya’s dance classes.
Mya traveled to places like Las Vegas, Rome and Paris teaching dance.
At one point, doctors did tell her she was pushing her body to the extreme. But her mother said she wanted to live all the days of her life to the fullest.
“She had rough life, and CF is an awful disease,” LeBlanc Zimmer said. “But she had an awesome life.”
Landry became emotional discussing why he chose this particular cause.
“I think for me, it’s about the more eyes that we can put to the cause, more hearts, the more people we can draw into what I’m standing for and what numerous people are dealing with, actually dealing with,” Landry said. “It means a lot to me to do that.”
Landry paused and took a deep breath.
“There are hundreds of diseases,” he said. “But this is one that has impacted my life.”
Mya’s mother, speaking from a grave 885 miles away from where Landry spoke Wednesday, is touched that a light will be shined on the disease that took her daughter.
“Mya Marie will be sitting like an angel on Sunday,” she said, “right on top of Jarvis’ helmet on that field.”
For ways to give and help find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis, please visit this link on the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website
To learn more about Cystic Fibrosis, please visit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation website
To see the shoes NFL players will wear for #MYCAUSEMYCLEATS check out this photo gallery