When Pam Smith took her son Alex to visit a residential high school for foster teens in 2005, she meant to teach him a lesson. Alex Smith took that lesson and turned it into his legacy.
Inspired by the trip, the former 49ers quarterback — traded yesterday to the Kansas City Chiefs — has spent every year of his professional career pouring time and money into bettering the lives of dozens of foster kids.
In 2007, Smith helped found the Alex Smith Guardian Scholars Program at San Diego State University, a program that has graduated 23 of the 30 foster teens it has supported so far. The program provides up to five years of tuition, housing, books, mentoring, career counseling, health services and living expenses.
Smith himself meets with the students at the end of every semester, either in person or via video conferencing, to check on their progress.
“That blew me away,” said former foster teen Marquis Blount, who graduated from SDSU with a computer engineering degree. “It was amazing to see when he had time off that he was a part of the program. He was like an older brother, making sure we were doing OK.”
Smith has even spent time in Washington lobbying on behalf of foster kids, particularly teenagers who, until recently, were emancipated from the foster system at 18 and often left with no support system to turn to.
To learn more about Smith’s work with foster kids and to read about the individual teenagers supported by his foundation, click here.
Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick is one of three children of Rick and Teresa Kaepernick. He's the only one who doesn't help churn out mozzarella and Monterey jack at Hilmar Cheese Co. in Merced County, where Rick is vice president of operations, and where he spoke in a telephone interview this week about his increasingly famous son, his upbringing in Turlock (Stanislaus County), and the expectations now on his shoulders.
On Colin handling the pressure of his first playoffs:
"Since he was little, he has had this unique ability to block things out and focus on the task at hand, and not let other things around him bother him. I remember when I dropped him off at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana before his senior year in college. He said, 'Dad, it's not about luck any more - you've either prepared or you haven't.' "
On Colin's decision to play football at the University of Nevada in Reno - the only school that had offered him a scholarship - rather than pursue baseball, in which he was a prized prospect and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
"He basically sat in our living room and told a Major League Baseball representative, 'I'm undraftable.' He said, 'This is my dream, this is my goal, this is what I'm going to work for.' As parents, you try to guide him to the best decision. Everyone had an opinion, but he decided that day what he wanted to do and he never looked back. He has that tattoo across his chest ('Against all odds') for a reason."
On Colin throwing a seven-inning no-hitter in high school while seriously ill:
"We knew before the game he had a cold or something. He said, 'I don't feel real good, but I'm going to go to school today.' After the game, he came home, took a shower, laid on the couch, and started shaking. I said, 'What's the matter?' He said, 'I'm really sick.' My wife's a registered nurse. She took him to the emergency room (at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock). He had pneumonia. That's how focused he can be."
On the response in Turlock to Colin's success:
"To me, the most gratifying thing as a parent is people keep coming up to me and saying, 'We love Colin because he hasn't changed. He's still Colin.' Most people say, 'We're so proud of Colin on the field, but more proud of how he's handled himself.' I think it would be very easy for most individuals to get very caught up in the publicity, but he's all about football and trying to achieve a goal. He's focused, and he's very good at putting that stuff aside. Everything he does is with a purpose. He hasn't become full of himself."
On Colin's competitive nature:
"He's very competitive. With anything and anybody. If we were to go outside and shoot HORSE, and if I were ever to beat him a game ... He has this philosophy - we're going to keep playing until I win, and then we can quit. Our family is like that in general. We're pretty competitive, but he's very competitive."
On Colin's leadership ability:
"When he was younger, in fifth or sixth grade, they had a GATE program for gifted students. If you were in the top 30, you go into the program at a different school, and he was like the top kid. We talked to the administrators, and they said Colin needed to be in there. Then we talked about it at home, and we decided to leave him in the regular school. They said, 'Why would you do that?' And I said, 'Listen, there's other things in life that are important.'
"One of the things we liked at the regular school was that Colin got his work done before anybody and then helped the other kids. And that was a leadership issue, even at that young age. He already was competitive enough. He didn't need to be competitive in schoolwork, too. I think it was a lesson to Colin that, hey, not everybody is as talented or gifted. It doesn't mean they're not good or important people. He was just one of the kids."
On Colin balancing confidence and humility:
"For me, Colin is a very confident young man. But I think his friends would tell you he's not cocky. He would tell you he doesn't think this is a big deal. He'd tell you, 'Everybody's good at something.' Some people are good at playing the piano, some people are good at dancing, and some people are good at football. "I used to tell him, 'If you have to tell somebody how good you are, how good really are you?' "
On Sunday the Niners go into Atlanta and battle the Falcons for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
This is as good a time as any for the readers to learn a little more about Colin Kaepernick, the new Niners starting quarterback. Besides being able to fly and besides being covered with tattoos of Psalms, he also has a pet tortoise, Sammy.
That dull roar still rumbling between your ears a day later is not your imagination.
It's the echo from the 49ers-Seahawks game Sunday night, when an already notoriously loud hometown crowd outdid itself. How?
Start with CenturyLink Field, a U-shaped stadium with cantilevered roofs extending over most of the 67,000 seats in the grandstands, a configuration designed to bounce back sound. Then throw in some fans presumably hopped up on espresso and, thanks to a later starting time, some more who stopped at Safeco Field on the way over to quaff 24-oz. beers offered through a promotion at a mere $4.50 each.
Next, mix in their dislike for a nasty NFC West rival and especially coach Jim Harbaugh, who smacked the Washington Huskies every chance he got when he was at Stanford and has been tormenting Seahawks coach Pete Carroll ever since.
Finally, throw in that early, unexpected lead and — voila! — a near-perfect sound storm.
Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have isolated a previously unknown protein in muscles that spurs their growth and increased power following resistance exercise. They suggest that artificially raising the protein's levels might someday help prevent muscle loss caused by cancer, prolonged inactivity in hospital patients, and aging.
Mice given extra doses of the protein gained muscle mass and strength, and rodents with cancer were much less affected by cachexia, the loss of muscle that often occurs in cancer patients, according to the report in the Dec. 7 issue of the journal Cell.
"This is basic science at present," commented Jorge Ruas, PhD, first author of the report. "But if you could find a way to elevate levels of this protein, that would be very exciting. For example, you might be able to reduce muscle wasting in patients in intensive care units whose muscles atrophy because of prolonged bed rest." Other applications, he said, might be in disorders such as muscular dystrophy and the gradual loss of muscle mass from aging.
Bruce Spiegelman, PhD, the senior author, led the Dana-Farber team that identified the protein, PGC-1 alpha-4, in skeletal muscle and said it is present in mice and humans. Resistance exercise, such as weight lifting, causes a rise in PGC-1 alpha-4, which in turn triggers biochemical changes that make muscles larger and more powerful, said the researchers.
The protein is an isoform, or slight variant, of PGC-1 alpha, an important regulatory of body metabolism that is turned on by forms of exercise, such as running, that increase muscular endurance rather than size. "It's pretty amazing that two proteins made by a single gene regulate the effects of both types of exercise," commented Spiegelman.
The researchers found that the new protein controls the activity of two previously known molecular pathways involved in muscle growth. A rise in PGC-1 alpha-4 with exercise increases activity of a protein called IGF1 (insulin-like growth factor 1), which facilitates muscle growth. At the same time, PGC-1 alpha-4 also represses another protein, myostatin, which normally restricts muscle growth. In effect, PGC-1 alpha-4 presses the accelerator and removes the brake to enable exercised muscles to gain mass and strength.
"All of our muscles have both positive and negative influences on growth," Spiegelman explained. "This protein (PGC-1 alpha-4) turns down myostatin and turns up IGF1."
Several experiments demonstrated the muscle-enhancing effects of the novel protein. The investigators used virus carriers to insert PGC-1 alpha-4 into the leg muscle of mice and found that within several days their muscle fibers were 60 percent bigger compared to untreated mice. They also engineered mice to have more PGC-1 alpha-4 in their muscles than normal mice who were not exercising. Tests showed that the treated mice were 20 percent stronger and more resistant to fatigue than the controls; in addition, they were leaner than their normal counterparts.
Mice engineered to have extra PGC-1 alpha-4 showed "dramatic resistance" to cancer-related muscle wasting, the scientists found. The mice lost only 10 percent mass in a leg muscle compared to a 29 percent loss in mice with cancer that did not have additional PGC-1 alpha-4, according to the report. The altered mice were also stronger and more active than the normal mice.