Community rallies support for Coach Garrow

By: 
Jill Meier, Journal editor

Submitted photo 

The Garrow family––Al and Savannah Blonquist (from left), Molly and AJ Garrow, Melissa, Chad and Alicia Garrow––are all smiles in this family photo that was taken at AJ and Molly’s wedding last year.

Brandon Valley football coach Chad Garrow loves burgers.
 
And from the results of a weekend fundraiser, it’s clear that Brandon Valley loves the football coach.
 
Over a three-day span, Tailgators Sports Bar & Grill served up 3,467 burgers, pledging $5 of every $10 burger order to the Garrow Weekend Burger Fundraiser. 
 
“We’ll write a check for $17,500,” said Dave Halverson, owner of Tailgators.
 
But that’s not where the goodwill endeavor ends. An anonymous donor is matching up to $10,000 and patrons dropped somewhere between $6,000 and $7,000 in free-will donations over the weekend. An additional $500 came compliments of a Super Bowl board winner, Tailgators manager Zach Bolter’s grandmother, Elaine Helaine of Willmar, Minn., who has never even met Coach Garrow. 
 
Two weeks after leading the Lynx to its second 11AAA state title in three seasons, Garrow was diagnosed with an aggressive form of a brain tumor, Glioblastoma. In January, he began chemo and radiation treatments at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in addition to physical and speech therapies.
 
Halverson estimated they’d sell 3,000 burgers over the three days, but well surpassed that figure by grilling up about 1,300 burgers on Friday, 300 of which went to staff at Brandon Valley schools. Saturday’s number reached 1,700 and Sunday closed out with more than 500 burgers sold.
 
“It’s the least we can do,” said Halverson. “It’s something to give back and hopefully it helps.”
 
Brandon’s pay-it-forward attitude also included purchases of a $250 Tailgators gift card and 10 pre-paid burgers for the Garrow family.
 
Chad and Melissa Garrow’s children––AJ, 25, Savannah, 24, and Alicia, 17––say their family is humbled by all of the kindness that has come their way since the diagnosis.
 
“It’s pretty cool how many people know about his love for burgers. This is perfect for him,” said Savannah (Garrow) Blonquist. “He loves burgers and has actually created a couple of burgers that are on the menu there.”
 
They are the Fourth and One, which includes cottage bacon, peanut butter, peach mango habanero jam, pepper jack cheese, and the First and Ten, a burger topped with smoked pork shoulder, boom boom barbecue sauce, cheddar cheese and an onion ring.
 
Savannah confesses she’s “a basic cheeseburger with ketchup only” gal, while Alicia is a fan of all kinds.
 
“Because that’s all we eat at home,” she said.
 
The burger benefit was suggested by Dave Schroeder of I29 Sports, a custom apparel company in Sioux Falls. From his associations with the Lynx coach, Schroeder was well aware of Garrow’s love for a good burger. 
 
“He told me this great story, which I just wonder how many times Dad has done this, because he never talks about this, but when he was building this relationship with I29 Sports, Dad was like, ‘I’ll take you to Tailgators and we can have burgers.’ He talked about how humble dad is and how he’s made an impact with I29. But that’s one of the things that he does that us kids don’t see and as I mentioned, that he doesn’t talk a lot about,” AJ said. 
 
The diagnosis
 
AJ said they were all numb after first learning of the brain tumor.
 
“It was obviously kind of a surprise to all of us. Dad went from winning the state championship, no symptoms to about a month later all of a sudden fogginess and the symptoms that arose. Obviously, something wasn’t right,” he said. “Then the diagnosis on Dec. 3, him being in the ER and then to now, it’s still kind of hard to put into words. I would say we were all kind of been numb and then all of a sudden it was, ‘Let’s get Dad into treatment as soon as possible.’”
 
Chad’s chemo and radiation treatments will continue at Mayo through Feb. 17. He then has four weeks until his next scan, at which time, AJ said, the the next best route will be determined.
“Most of the time radiation will not happen after first wave of treatment just because how detrimental it is to his health,” AJ said.
 
In mid-January, a third form of tumor growth caused right-sided weakness––or neglect.
 
“Neglect means that he isn’t feeling the right side of his body, so he neglects that it is there and can be a little clumsy,” AJ wrote in a Jan. 19 Caring Bridge post. Along with right-sided weakness, it’s also impacted Chad’s ability to communication.
 
“He works hard to get out what he is trying to say and pushes himself to move around without help,” AJ wrote.
 
“He’s never really been a super loud guy as it is, so it’s not too much of a change for him,” adds Alicia. “I think the most frustrating thing for him is when he needs something or wants to say something and he doesn’t know how to communicate it. ... He’s so strong, though. This whole week made me respect him 10 times more. He had six appointments today and he came back and just gave me a big hug. He still has that emotion, which is good. He’s so strong, but obviously it’s challenging when he tries to communicate.”
 
AJ said his father is determined to continue coaching Lynx football. 
 
“He wants to continue leading those young men into guys that are going to make an impact on other peoples’ lives,” he said. “You can tell he’s fighting with everything he’s got.”
 
Melissa Garrow, the family rock
 
The Garrow siblings say their mother, Melissa, has been the family rock. Along with Chad’s diagnosis, she’s faced even more heartache over the past year.
 
“We lost grandma (Diane Young) earlier last year in the middle of COVID and she was the only kid that could be around at the time with how heightened COVID restrictions were. Then, taking care of grandma and grandpa, while grandpa was doing dialysis, and now having to go through something like this, it’s almost conditioned her in a way,” AJ said. “She’s just so tough and has been one of the more positive people through this. I’ve been more negative, questioning why this is happening … but she’s been right there saying miracles can happen and that we have to trust in God. Her positivity alone has made us all come together and be more positive.”
 
With treatment taking place during the week, the Garrow family gather for Friday night meals each week. The meals are being provided by 11B football coaches from across the state. 
 
“That’s been amazing, just having people wanting to help in so many ways,” Savannah said. “Meals, especially, have been helpful,  because my mom wants to come home and relax and all of us kids want to be there, so it’s definitely been really helpful to have that. People’s support has been pretty amazing and we can definitely feel the love and prayers from everybody.”
 
Adds AJ, “We can’t stress enough how thankful we are for the help we are receiving. There’s a lot of people out there that don’t get this recognition and it just shows how blessed we are. At the same time, we’re praying for everybody that’s going through the same things that dad’s going through.”
 
Garrow’s elves
 
BV football and track coaches are now tackling Garrow’s long-put off basement remodel and garage updates, which was spearheaded by BJ Becker and Matt Mueller. 
 
“It’s something that all of us have wanted for a long time, but it’s either one year his back hurts or the next year it’s money, just things like that,” Savannah said. “We went all those years with not having it, but this was something he really wanted to get done tbecause of our (AJ and Savannah) weddings this year. They wanted to be able to host people, so having that done this winter was going to be a big project.”
 
She said it was Mueller who stepped up to organize the endeavor, which is a “man cave” for Chad, a bedroom and bathroom.
 
“We don’t have the words for it, but it’s truly, truly amazing and it will mean a lot to my dad,” Savannah said.
 
Defensive football coach Matt Christensen said Chad put off the project because “he prioritized the kids and his job, sports and poured his life into other people. At this point, people want to help him however we can. This will be a nice space for relaxation and recovery, and just give him a lift when he needs it.”
 
With an initial goal of raising $15,000 for the remodel projects, donations for the project poured in.
 
“It burned right by that (goal),” Christensen said. “We know people are generous, so we set a goal that would help and allow people a way to help, because I got hundreds of emails and texts asking, ‘Hey, what can we do? We want to help. We’re here for him,’ and that’s just one way people can help.”
 
The Garrow siblings say stacks of cards and letters continue to show up in the mailbox daily.
 
“It’s been incredible,” AJ says. “You don’t realize the friends that he’s made or the things he’s done, because he’s so quiet about that stuff.”
 
A GoFundMe account was established to help cover costs during Chad’s treatment at Mayo and beyond. A separate account, “Chad’s Cave” was set up on Venmo or donations can be made to “Chad’s Cave” at any First National Bank branch in the area.
 
“The outpouring’s been marvelous, but not surprising,” Christensen said. “I just know he’s grateful and hopefully lifted by that.”
 
Christensen has not been surprised by the public’s willingness to help.
 
“It surprised Melissa a lot, but I reminded her that, ‘You’re Bob Young’s kid and you know coaching and you know the connections it creates. If you coach hard, but love harder, it shows and you touch people’s lives and you just matter,’” he said. “We coaches try not to matter, but we just do. It’s just the nature. We try not to be in the spotlight, rather make it about the players, because it is, and I suppose that’s the giving nature of the profession. But players and fans notice that and they appreciate that on a subconscious level. It’s a tough career, but an awesome one in that manner that you’re able to connect so much. And although he’s not the most social, outgoing guy, but by virtue of his role and the way he likes to impact others in charitable ways and all the thoughtfulness, benevolence.”
 
A GoFundMe page set up for the Garrows has raised nearly $39,000 since early December. To donate, visit GoFundMe.com/f/support-coach-garrow.

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