For Springfield College IMPACT Ambassador Greg Weigert Compassion and Family Never Fades

Vincent Gallo
Staff Writer
@VinGallo731

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Photo courtesy of Greg Weigert.

The Thursday night when Springfield College freshman Greg Weigert’s life changed forever had been going innocently enough. It was Dec. 13, 2012. Weigert, a college commuter, was back at his residence in Windsor Locks, Conn. a small town that resides beneath the shadow of Hartford, its only real claims to fame being home to Bradley International Airport and the 1965 Little League World Series Championship.

December had been relatively haven-like to Weigert, who had been suffering from searing fevers throughout the fall, while participating in offseason workouts as a member of the Springfield College baseball team. At the time, he was coming off of a fever that raged north of 100 degrees all throughout November. It was a time of serenity…or so it seemed.

Weigert left his basement, where he had been watching college basketball, to use the bathroom. That was when he collapsed.

His brother, Zach Weigert, arrived home from basketball practice shortly after Greg passed out. Anticipation of the comfort of home was quickly abandoned for Zach. He was zapped with panic and shock after he found Greg convulsing in the hallway, without a heart rate.

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Photo courtesy of Greg Weigert.

“It was probably the scariest thing that ever happened to me; and it didn’t even happen to me,” said Zach, “It scared the living crap out of me: finding him convulsing on the ground, not knowing what was going on, having to call the ambulance, and the thought of losing my brother.”

His brother was lying there, the early December darkness that enveloped the house never seemed so emphasized, the artificial light of the house never seeming so sinister. Several frantic cries by Zach for their mother, Lorraine Weigert, and a 911 call later, and Greg Weigert was being rushed to the hospital via ambulance. His heart had stopped for three and a half minutes.

“[It was] extremely stressful,” said Lorraine Weigert. “[I was] confused, and frightened. I just wanted to take the pain and suffering away from him.”

Greg survived the episode. The diagnosis was a heart attack, triggered by Familial Mediterranean fever, a condition where an individual houses a combination of mutated genes. Weigert was one in 300,000 who had two separate codings of the mutated genes. Excessive physical exertion had caused his organs, including his heart, to inflame.

“After an experience [like that], your whole perspective of life changes,” said Weigert, a student with height and stockiness. “I value cherishing every single day. I was so close to being gone; you never truly know what can happen from one day to the next.”

Weigert’s heart attack and medical condition sidelined him from school for a full year. At the same time, his baseball playing career came to an abrupt conclusion.

“One thing that sucked about him getting sick was that he couldn’t play baseball at Springfield College anymore,” said Zach. “That was both of our dreams growing up, to play baseball in college. It hurt me to watch that, [for him] to lose a dream so drastically.”

Joel Weisel, Greg’s lifelong friend and neighbor, said, “[For him] to overcome the illness that took him out of school for a year and collegiate sports, something that he was really excited about: that’s admirable. He never asked ‘why me?’”

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Photo courtesy of Greg Weigert.

Greg, now a junior, still holds onto his hopes to pursue a career within baseball operations. Growing up as a Boston Red Sox fan, he would keep a myriad number of scorebooks, and memorize the 40-man rosters for each team in Major League Baseball. To further this passion, Springfield College provided him with the hand-in-glove fit in its Sports Management major. Weigert will be attending the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee this December to network within the industry and search for an internship with a professional baseball franchise. While always a sports enthusiast, such a personal challenge due to medical reasons brought a new ambition to Weigert’s life.

“While I was in the hospital, my family was worried about what was going to happen to me. [But] there’s so many people out there that are so much [worse] off than I am,” said Weigert. “I thought: ‘what can I do to help those people once I’m better?’”

Weigert returned to Springfield College in the fall of 2013. An opportunity for him to help others came almost immediately. An assignment in his Event Management class called for him and a group of classmates to run a campus-wide event. Maybe a dodgeball tournament. Maybe a H-O-R-S-E basketball game. But Weigert wanted to take a step further. He wanted to make an impact outside of recreational sports. He proposed a head-shaving event through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation to raise awareness and funds towards childhood cancer. The result was the entire campus uniting at Judd Gymnasium, the buzzing of electric razors echoing throughout the gym, clumps of hair falling to the hardwood, and Weigert’s vision being fulfilled.

Weigert’s effort with St. Baldrick’s set up his affiliation with Team IMPACT, a nonprofit organization that pairs children with life-threatening illnesses with college sports teams, with the intention of raising spirits of the youth during a time of hardship. Team IMPACT wanted to expand its program to different universities and colleges across the country. The combination of his personal medical experience, and his service with St. Baldrick’s resulted in Weigert being appointed Springfield College’s on-campus ambassador for Team IMPACT. As of this fall, four Springfield College teams have been matched with Team IMPACT: women’s volleyball, football, baseball, and women’s basketball.

“I want to make a positive impact on other people,” said Weigert. “It’s a human instinct [to do so]. I want to put people in good positions, [and] I want to make people happy.”

“I know that’s what he really wants to do with his life,” said Zach. “He’s not afraid of anything anymore. It’s a great opportunity for him; to be able to go out and help other people.”

“Since his life changed forever, he’s done nothing but give back to those who are less fortunate,” said his father, John Weigert. “He’s amazing. Wherever he goes, he is going to help people.”

While Weigert has great desire to demonstrate acts of compassion through his community service, his origin of overwhelming care for others traces back to his own family. He heavily credits his family for who he is today.

“My parents made sure that my brother and I gained the most out of life,” Weigert said. “They supported me in any decision I wanted to make. They went to all of my school and sporting events; they really pushed me to be my best, and they still do.”

Weigert said that he was always inspired by his younger brother, Zach. The two of them, an inseparable duo growing up, conquered the dusty base paths of little league and high school baseball. Greg returned to Windsor Locks High School and was Zach’s baseball coach during his senior year.

“These two guys have a bond that is unbelievable,” said John, who was Greg and Zach’s baseball coach through their youth.

“I always wanted to be the greatest role model possible for him,” said Greg.

Zach said, “He made me feel like there was nothing I couldn’t do, he was always there for me.”

Weigert has always possessed a special bond with his grandparents growing up. His grandmother, Patricia Mattarazzo, would always be able to count on a daily phone call from Greg since he was five years old. And then there was his grandfather, Frank Mattarazzo. Hailing from Sicilian descent, he grew up in Windsor, Conn. He led a job at a local water company and was a United States Army veteran. Weigert described him as a blue collared man who always put family first.

“He was a very humble person,” said Weigert. “He was a guy who didn’t say much, but when he did, you listened.”

In the Spring of 2012, Weigert was patiently awaiting his high school graduation, typically a time of making memories and excitement. He was steps away from a milestone. However, as graduation was approaching, Weigert’s grandfather passed away; one month shy of his graduation.

“That was a very emotional time for me,” said Weigert. “I gave the eulogy at his funeral, to a man who always has been a great inspiration to me. His goal was to last, to see me graduate high school, and he died a month prior. That really got to me. From that point forward my mindset transitioned to ‘I have to make my grandfather proud.’”

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Photo courtesy of Greg Weigert.

Patricia can easily recount the love from Weigert that was directed towards his grandfather during the eulogy. It was a speech that encapsulated his grandfather’s humbleness and compassion: from creating a mini golf course in his backyard for his grandchildren to serving up his legendary peanut butter and banana sandwiches (no crust). It is a document she keeps with her to this day.

“[It was] unbelievable,” she said, the awe in her voice being resurrected from that emotional day. “He had us all in tears.”

Merely months later, when Weigert was in the hospital, trapped in a state of delirium, while being treated for his heart attack, he recalls having the impression of seeing his grandfather, the man he attempted to model his character after: the ghostly image of him, with his slicked back white hair, and typical Sicilian, olive colored skin. He was standing at the foot of Weigert’s bed, watching over him. Members of his family can recall him muttering: “Where’s Gramps?”

“We had a special relationship,” said Weigert. “When I was calling out to him after my heart attack; it was one of those weird experiences, but it goes to show what an influence he was.”

Weigert’s compassion has always burned bright, and his determination has no bounds.

“If he’s on your side, you’re in good hands,” said his father John. “He’s the most goal oriented person that I’ve ever known.”

Lorraine Weigert is extremely proud of the man who her son has become.

“There are days when I look at Gregory and try to [fathom] the young man who he has become,” she said. “I believe he is an old soul and has been here before. He’s an amazing young man, who has made me very proud. I’m honored that he’s my son. He has touched many lives with a positive impact.”

“I knew, when I was laying in that hospital bed, that I had a purpose in life, to do something impactful,” Weigert said. “It’s been in small portions, up to this point, but I still have plenty of time. My goal is to have a lasting impact on a wide scale, to change a group of people’s lives for the better. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

 

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