CHICAGO — Former Chicago Bears defensive back Charles “Peanut” Tillman completed a 65-mile row across Lake Michigan Monday in a boat that he built.
The journey was months in the making. It was all to undertake a difficult personal challenge with a lofty public goal; raising money to help kids dealing with much more significant challenges.
Tillman's 65-mile trip across Lake Michigan in a rowboat began Sunday from Saint Joseph Michigan. But in many ways, the journey started 11 years before that when Tillman first found out his young daughter Tiana nearly died.
“In 2008, she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, and as a result of that she had a heart transplant four months later,” Tillman said.
That experience gave his life a new purpose: to use his fame and notoriety as an NFL star to help sick children.
“I just wanted to do anything with the money as far as helping out families as best we could,” he said.
He trained for months with a teammate who shares his passion, Jake Beckley.
Starting at the beginning of the year, he and Beckley began building a rowboat from scratch to raise money for children dealing with serious illnesses
“Childhood cancers, they just don’t get enough funding,” Beckley said.
The goal is to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. The owner of Land Craft Inc, Captain Keith Lekberg followed the two in a “chase boat” with food and medical supplies to ensure their safety.
“These guys are rowing, and I can’t imagine it because I would be tired after one mile, or a half a mile, a quarter-mile, you’d be tired,” Lekberg said. “It takes a lot of stamina.”
Stamina for the journey fueled by service for others. Tillman wants to punch home a point: We’re all in the same boat.
“For every one person that I bless, and then that cycle of giving just keeps ongoing,” he said.
Two other hurdles Tillman overcame with this journey; he was afraid of the open water and he didn’t know how to row.
But he’s showing he can overcome obstacles and trying to give hope those who may have serious health issues.