Timeout: Lord family's mission to promote safety in sports continues

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Jake Lord was a three-sport high school athlete who loved baseball. (Submitted photo)

A courageous Jenna Winokur overcame mind-numbing grief and found a way to embrace life again after the death of her beloved brother, Jake Lord, a talented athlete who took his own life seven years ago after suffering several concussions playing sports.

Former president Dwight D. Eisenhower got to the crux of grief when he said, “There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.”

Jake’s suicide left his immediate family feeling desolate and a deep sadness descended upon the communities that surround Spruce Mountain High School in Jay.

“It took a while to get to where I am right now in the grief process,” Winokur said. “I do know and can confidently say my brother knows that I loved him and I would have done anything for him.

“(Suicide) is different from other deaths. The grief is so different because there are so many unanswered questions. There are questions that we will never have the answers to. That is part of the grief burden that we will live with everyday.

“That’s really why I started the foundation, because if I can just help one family from living with this pain, then it is all worth it to me for the work that I have done and the work I hope I can continue to do. It is the most devastating kind of pain.”

So, after you finish your day-after-Thanksgiving turkey sandwich, reach for your wallet for the Jake Lord Play It Safe Foundation, which will be hosting the alumni and exhibition basketball games at Spruce Mountain High School’s gymnasium — fondly known as The Nest — in Jay on Friday, Nov. 23.

This event, in its seventh year, has become the Lord family’s mission, and their work is making a difference in athletics.

But Winokur will always feel an emptiness, and you don’t have to remind her that grief is like parasite that can eat away at your soul and steal your zest for life. It would have been easy for her draw the shade, stay in bed and allow melancholy to consume her.

There is not a day that Jenna Winokur does not think about Jake, but she is resilient. After all, Jake had those All-American boy looks and he was a three-sport athlete who played football, baseball and basketball.

What’s not to like, right? Just take a good look at pictures of Jake and you will see a bright, enthusiastic kid who was well-loved by a caring and close family.

Winkour reined in her grief and started a foundation that would honor her brother, make a difference in school athletics and became a cathartic experience for her.

That takes guts, and Winokur has got them. The same can be said for the entire Lord family.

Looking back, she remembers Jake’s complaints about headaches and being in a cloud after his head injuries took a collective toll on his health.

“There were a few (concussions) that we knew of,” Winokur said. The most significant one was during his junior year of football, but I am sure there were others that he experienced like many other young players do when he was playing in AYS (Area Youth Sports) and other sports. There were two that we knew of, one that was very notable.”

After his serious concussion, Winokur said her brother was not cleared medically to play football, which must have been heartbreaking for a kid who loved being on the gridiron. 

“I think about the amount of pain that he must have been in because the amount of pain that I feel — and I am still here — so his pain had to have been worse,” she said. “It is just so much pain.

“November is a hard month (Jake died in November), and this is a particularly a hard week,” Winokur said. “It feels like forever and like yesterday at the same time.”

The goal of the foundation is simple and important: “The mission of the Jake Lord Play It Safe Foundation is to promote safety in youth sports, to increase public awareness of the impact of concussions on the mental health of athletes and to promote public policies that will protect youth from the devastating consequences of head injuries.”

Winokur is seeing a change people’s attitudes toward concussions in sports and believes that is a hopeful sign.

“We are starting to see a shift, which I am working to do,” she said, “but the mentality around this for so long was: ‘You are tough. You are a football player. Just get back out there. Brush it off and play.’ How many concussions went unrecognized in all our youth athletes? We are all educated on the seriousness of concussions.”

But she said her passion to continue the foundation has never waned.

“It warms my heart that its one night of the year that people look forward to it,” she said. “It’s one night we are all there for Jake.

“One of the most incredible feelings is to see people there because they want keep his memory alive and that they support the cause,” Winokur said. “I have a lot help and a great support system. I live in New York so I have many helpers in Maine who help me collect donations and send letters out to the local businesses. It is a team effort.

“As long as the community continues to show up, we will continue to have it.” 

But the foundation has allowed Winokur to lift that veil of overpowering grief and enjoy her husband Daniel, a physician, and her 6-month-old son Nash and still remember Jake.

“The only thing that changes is how you deal with your grief,” she said. “You have to put one foot in front of the other and keeping going because what choice do you have?

“Every happy in moment in life will always have this sadness to it because my brother is not here to experience it and to be with us.”

Spruce Mountain coach Scott Bessey will be there because he is a staunch supporter of the the Jake Lord Foundation.

“As a coach, I feel blessed and fortunate to be able to help the foundation in any way I can,” Bessey said. “The community rallies around this foundation because it’s named after a boy from the community who fell victim to the long-term effects concussions can have.

“Everyone remembers Jake, who was an athlete and great kid from the community and this community is so small and tight knit that we will all rally around one of our own. What the Lord family has done in his name is remarkable.

“The alumni night is always a great night. We get to fill the gym with all local people celebrating the past and at the same time raising money for this great foundation. It also gives the community a chance to get an early glimpse of both the boys’ and girls’ varsity teams as they kick off their seasons. It’s just a great night and I’m very excited to be a part of it.”

Jake Lord (Submitted photo)

Members of the Lord family, from let to right, Sandy, Jake, Jenna and Daniel. (Submtted photo)

The Jake Lord Play It Safe Foundation

Friday, Nov. 23, 

Spruce Mountain High School gymnasium, Jay, Maine

Exhibition games

4 p.m. — Girls’ alumni game

5 p.m. — Boys’ alumni game

6 p.m. — Spruce Mountain varsity girls’ team vs. Mt. View varsity girls’ team

7:30 p.m. — Spruce Mountain varsity boys’ team vs. Mt. View varsity boys’ team

Raffle prizes, concessions, 50-50 tickets, games

Donations accepted at the door

For more information or to donate to the event:

www.playitsafefoundation.org

www.facebook.com/JLPISF

207-931-9606

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