Seahawks’ guard J.R. Sweezy talks about his fight against Alzheimer’s

J.R. & Gissell Sweezy smile as they remember fun stories about Papaw Gene Wilhelm. J.R.'s Papaw Gene was diagnosed with Alzheimer's nine years ago.

J.R. & Gissell Sweezy smile as they remember fun stories about Papaw Gene Wilhelm. J.R.’s Papaw Gene was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nine years ago. “It’s tough, because we don’t get to see him much,” said J.R.. “That’s why I’ve decided to help and raise awareness and do as much as I can—I want to be behind this all the way for as long as it takes.”

By Rachel Turner

Seahawks’ J.R. Sweezy is not the tough offensive guard most people know when he’s around his wife Gissell. “She’s everything I ever wanted,” said J.R. smiling at her on the couch in their living room. “I became so much happier when she came into my life. She’s my support system,” he says lowering his gaze shyly, petting their black Labrador Otis.

Gissell laughs, returning his smile. “There’s that soft side of him that people don’t see,” said Gissell. “I think everyone sees him as just a football player—not me. That’s just what he does for a living.”

J.R. and Gissell met in sixth grade after she and her family moved to Mooresville, North Carolina. “We were in home room together,” said Gissell. “We would laugh and talk, and we became friends.”

Although Gissell wasn’t in the same popular crowd as J.R. in high school, they continued their friendship and attended senior prom together. “We dated and broke up three times from high school into college,” said Gissell. “I was done after the last one,” she shook her head laughing.

Gissell attended Peace College while J.R. attended NC State University to play football, following his paternal grandfather Roger’s footsteps. “It took time for me to grow up and realize how special she is,” said J.R.

They led separate lives for five years until running into each other at Duckworth’s Grill while visiting family. “We talked for a month after that and then were back together,” said Gissell. “I felt peace. When we’re together everything makes sense.”

J.R. nodded his head with assurance. “We make each other better,” he said.

J.R. and Gissell Sweezy pet their dog, Otis, at their home in Bellevue. “I want J.R. to live his dream,” said Gissell. “We just want happiness, a big family and lots of dogs.”

J.R. and Gissell Sweezy pet their dog, Otis, at their home in Bellevue. “I want J.R. to live his dream,” said Gissell. “We just want happiness, a big family and lots of dogs.”

Gissell entered his life again the year after J.R. was drafted and selected by the Seattle Seahawks. “I couldn’t do it without her,” said J.R. “She helps me with everything.”

In season, they have routines that keep J.R. focused and learning the game. Before each home game, Gissell cooks a meal for afterwards. “We get the food, ice him down and watch film after every game,” said Gissell. “It’s our bonding time during the season.”

“Football is something I’ve always loved, and I’m blessed enough to do it,” said J.R. “We’ve won a lot of games because of the 12s. It’s the only place like that in the entire NFL, and I’m lucky enough to call it home,” he said about Century Link Field.

“I love it. I get goose bumps just thinking about running out of that tunnel. The 12s are so loud; they’re great fans—they set the mood and keep us going.”

J.R. believes the 12s will also support him in raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. “They go above and beyond, and I think they’re doing that outside of football too.” said J.R.

J.R.’s Papaw Gene, a successful businessman, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease nine years ago. After seeing his maternal grandfather’s drastic decline last April, J.R. and Gissell decided to create #the12s Walk to End Alzheimer’s team in Seattle, Issaquah and Charlotte North Carolina to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.

“If we are raising money and have the right people researching and understanding it, maybe we will find a cure one day,” said J.R. “I want to raise awareness from coast to coast.

We’re helping now for the future. It’s too late for Papaw Gene, but not for our kids,” said J.R.

The family celebrates Papaw Gene's birthday with a cake. Over 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, including Gene Wilhelm, maternal grandfather of J.R. Sweezy.

The family celebrates Papaw Gene’s birthday with a cake. Over 5 million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer’s, including Gene Wilhelm, maternal grandfather of J.R. Sweezy.

J.R. only gets to visit his papaw two or three times per year, but even now in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, Papaw Gene will sometimes ask, “Is that the boy that plays football?” and reach for his Seahawks hat.

Both of J.R.’s grandfathers were prominent role models in his life. His Grandpa Roger not only played football, but exemplified hard work and taught J.R. “not to doubt myself, to do what is right and to be my own man. He told me that ‘til the day he died,” said J.R.

They were successful men who led by example. “I’ve learned never to take a day for granted. God’s the only one who knows the in-story.” said J.R. “Just like in football, we can’t take a day for granted, because it could all end in one moment.”

Although J.R. will playing with the Seahawks’ during the Walks, Gissell, family and #the12s will be in Seattle, Issaquah and Charlotte raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’re soul mates living the dream,” said Gissell. “Every day he works to be a better man—in football and in our personal lives. I’ll do anything for him because he’s the love of my life.”

From coast to coast, you can join J.R. and Gissell to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease. Sign up for The 12s Walk to End Alzheimer’s teams in Issaquah and Charlotte today. 

To support or join #the12s Walk to End Alzheimer’s team, click here. 

For more information, contact Rachel Turner, Communications & Marketing Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association Washington State Chapter: rturner@alz.org; 206.549.8644.

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One comment

  1. I believe this site has got some really fantastic information for everyone :D. “Time–our youth–it never really goes, does it It is all held in our minds.” by Helen Hoover Santmyer.

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