How my family learned through horrible circumstances about the power of John Streif

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John Streif being honored during an Iowa football game. Photo courtesy of the Iowa Sports Information Department

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – I met John Streif for the first time in the fall of 1978 shortly after my older brother had joined the Iowa football team.

I remember thinking that John sort of resembled Radar O’Reilly from the iconic television series M*A*S*H., which was at its zenith at the time.

John was a trainer for the Iowa football team, but my family would soon learn under horrible circumstances that he was much more than that.

My brother, Frank, had what was considered minor surgery to remove a bone chip from his right knee in the spring of 1979. He was expected to be on crutches for just a few days before resuming full activity.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

My brother’s knee was ravaged by a staph infection that not only ended his football career before his redshirt freshman season, but still affects him to this day with a noticeable limp and constant pain.

He spent nearly the entire 1979 fall semester in the hospital, his body withering away due to the devastating effects from the infection, which made his knee swell to twice its size.

My parents drove back and forth from our home in Des Moines to Iowa City to comfort my brother as much as their schedules would allow. They both worked full time, so it wasn’t easy making the near four-hour round trip on a regular basis.

My parents were scared and felt helpless as their son struggled to overcome the infection in a hospital that was more than 100 miles away.

But through all the pain, misery and suffering, something special occurred thanks to the power of John Streif.

My family would soon learn that Streif was much more than just a trainer.

He was more like my brother’s guardian angel, a shining light in a sea of darkness and depression.

“That's what he was to me,” my brother said Thursday. “I don’t know how I would’ve made it through that time without him.”

Streif spent countless hours at my brother’s bedside in the hospital. He often was there when my parents visited to offer his support and comfort.

My mother doesn’t hand out compliments very often, but she once called John Streif a wonderful man and started crying as I interviewed her for a story when John retired from the University of Iowa.

Knowing that John Streif was watching over her son gave my mother some much-needed comfort and hope.

My brother never had a chance to play in a game for Iowa, but you would’ve thought that he was the most important player on the team based on how Streif treated him.

But that’s the beauty of John Streif in that every Hawkeye was the most important player on the team.

It’s scary to think how my brother’s struggle would have gone without the love and support of John Streif.

That’s why I was so excited and pleased to learn that John is part of Iowa’s 2018 Hall of Fame class, which was announced on Thursday.

John was a valuable staff member as a trainer and travel coordinator for football and men’s basketball. But it was his kindness, compassion and love that truly made him special.

For a student-athlete, he was like a parent, a big brother and a best friend all rolled into one.

John was the one who found my brother after my brother had left the hospital without permission because he was depressed and confused after weeks of pain and suffering and dealing with pain killers.

John wrapped his arms around my brother and held him tight as if to say, I got you. You’ll be fine.

My brother then returned to the hospital where he continued his fight to recover with John often at his side.

College can be a scary and intimidating time as kids move away from the comfort and security of home for the first time. Combine that with the demands of being a student-athlete and the experience can be overwhelming at times.

That’s why Iowa was so fortunate to have Streif help with that delicate transition.

John still attends Iowa sporting events on a regular basis and always draws a crowd because he is so loved and highly respected. John has gift for making you feel like the most important person in the world.

And it's genuine because there is nothing about John Streif that isn't genuine and sincere. 

John related to kids from all different backgrounds and cultures while working at Iowa from 1972 to 2012. It didn’t matter if you grew up on a farm in Iowa or in a big city far away.

He was devoted and true.

John Streif is also one of kind, and I feel confident in saying we’ll never see anybody like him again.

So congratulations my friend from a very appreciative family.