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Family, Service and Gratitude

Family, Service and Gratitude

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Donna and James Daniels knew their son was nursing an injury.

Still, the two of them made their way to Atlanta for Miami’s game against Georgia Tech, intent on supporting the Hurricanes and spending time with friends and fellow parents at the game.

Then, as they settled in at Bobby Dodd Stadium on a chilly November afternoon, they noticed a Miami fan wearing a shirt that bore their son’s name and jersey number. Around them, Miami fans asked if they recognized the man in the Jalen Rivers shirt.

They did not. Not initially, anyway.

Curious as to who the fan was and eager to thank him for his support, James Daniels introduced himself. Moments later, Donna Daniels – a retired Yeoman Senior Chief Petty Officer who’d served in the United States Navy for 26 years – was fighting back tears once the realization hit.

The man in the Jalen Rivers jersey was a sailor who’d served under her command.

“My husband went over there and he said, ‘I know your wife. She made me who I am today,” Donna Daniels recalled. “He was just there to show his support, even though he knew Jalen was hurt. It’s moments like those that make me realize I made the right decision to serve.”

For his part, Rivers is plenty proud of his mother’s decision to serve, too. He’s equally proud of James Daniels, his stepfather, who retired after 30 years of service in the Navy, and his father, Keith Rivers, a fellow Naval veteran.

Rivers says all three – and their service – have shaped him into the person he is today.

“I know a lot of veterans and people that are in service make a lot of sacrifices and these three people that are in my life made a lot of sacrifices,” said Rivers, a third-year redshirt freshman offensive lineman for the Hurricanes. “My mom, when it was just her for a little while, she had to make a lot of sacrifices and spend months away from me to do her job…And she had no setbacks. She was upset, but she kept pushing. That’s why I look up to her, to all three of them…They made me realize how much work goes into what they do and still making time for their families…They taught me discipline, hard work. I learned at a young age that to get what I want, I had to do the work, hard work…That will get you a long ways and I think that shows in my game and in how I am as a person.”

That’s a sentiment Hurricanes receiver Michael Redding III understands, too.

Like Rivers, both of Reddings’ parents – Yusetheus and Michael Redding – served in the Navy and the receiver says they instilled in him the same drive, discipline and work ethic Rivers’ parents shared with him.

“I think the biggest thing that I kind of got from them is that structure, that discipline. My parents are very disciplined people and that instilled that in me,” Redding III said. “Even to this day, that’s a big value for me, a big core value because I’ve seen it in my parents and how they live their lives.”

On Saturday, the Rivers, the Reddings and countless other service members will be honored when Miami hosts Pittsburgh at Hard Rock Stadium for its regular-season finale.

Yes, Miami’s seniors will be recognized that day and yes, it will mark the final home game of the year for the Hurricanes.

But it will also be Military Appreciation Day and both families say it’s beyond meaningful that the Hurricanes and their fans will acknowledge the work they’ve done and how they’ve served our country.

“Being in the military for 30 years, people don’t always see the sacrifices you make. Just imagine, think about how much of the lives of their children, the lives of their parents, the lives of their siblings [veterans] miss,” James Daniels said. “All the birthdays, all the Christmases or Thanksgivings, all the times they’re away from their families. The ones that have lost limbs or have had to deal with PTSD. The impact of all of that is never going to be erased. But the fact that you’re recognized for your service, people don’t understand how heartwarming that is, how appreciative that is to people that have served. Little things go a long way.”

Added Yusetheus Redding, “Honestly, it’s an honor. Although I went into the military for my own reasons, just seeing how much it has meant to others, to see they recognize the sacrifices that I made, it means a lot to me. When people are like ‘Thank you for your service,’ I’m honored. I’m one of those people that don’t take compliments well. I don’t see it that way, but I definitely appreciate it. I appreciate the camaraderie and everything that comes with it. I just feel like it’s an honor that I even served at all.”

And while they’re especially grateful for their parents’ service every day, Redding III and Rivers acknowledge it’s special to them, too, when their University, their teammates, and their community recognize what their parents have done.

“We don’t want our veterans to go unnoticed for the things that they do and the sacrifices they make,” Redding III said. “We want to appreciate all of those people because they are protecting us. They’re allowing us to play the sport that we play because they’re protecting us…I’m so appreciative of what they did.”

Said Rivers, “I’ve grown up always being proud of them. When I was younger, even in high school, when they’d take the time to appreciate the veterans and have them stand up, I’d make my parents stand. They don’t always like being in the spotlight, especially my mom, but I’d make them stand up and I’d be clapping, too…It’s so important to honor people that have made sacrifices for this country. There’s a lot of things people don’t know that these families have to go through with parents not being there because of deployments and things. It’s a lot. My parents were in the military for 25-plus years, my stepdad for 30 years. It’s good to get any chance we can to honor them. And I try to make sure every Veteran’s Day I take the time out of my day and call them and tell them how much I appreciate them…I make it my business to cherish that.”