As UW-Whitewater and Hartford offensive lineman Quinn Meinerz auditions for the NFL draft, he can't forget the ones who have been there all along for him, especially the daughter of his high school offensive line coach and 'Hugs 4 Alaina.'
Quinn Meinerz is a 325-pound offensive lineman, and set for the NFL Draft.
"I always kind of thought I was a positive person, but I mean she takes it to the next level," Quinn Meinerz says.
His inspiration? Alaina Shelsta.
"I just always find a way to be happy, and kind of be myself," Alaina Shelsta says.
Easier said than done. Shelsta has GLUT1, a rare blood sugar disorder that causes seizures.
"Only about 300 are diagnosed. She is the only person in the world on this medication," Alaina's Dad Paul Shelsta says.
Paul Shelsta is Quinn's offensive line coach from Hartford High School and Alaina's father. And she has complicated issues that forced mother Chris to step aside as Hartford's Girls Basketball Coach.
"I loved coaching, it was just, I had to be there for our family more, and with everything going on, this is the best time that I had to step down and focus more on what we need to do for Alaina," Chris Shelsta says.
"There are times where her medication would change, it was something different every week," Paul Shelsta says.
"Every day. Every day!" Chris Shelsta exclaims.
"Right. There's 19 different things she has to take every day. And that's actually down, because I think the highest at one time was 26. So yeah, being a coach does help because you have to change the game plan," Paul Shelsta says.
"I absolutely hated giving 9 vials of blood for the NFL Combine, and she goes 'I do that all the time.' And I watch. And I watch, and I'm just like, I'm over here going 'please I cannot wait for it to be over with,'" Meinerz says.
Meinerz never forgets his Hartford hometown roots. And before his big stage at the Senior Bowl for draft-eligible players, he let it show.
"It's 8 in the morning," Paul Shelsta says. "And I'm just watching Alaina at Special Olympics and my phone rings. And it's Quinn. And I'm like 'why is Quinn calling me right now?' I answered the phone, and he said that they were putting stickers on their helmets, saying 'I'm playing in honor of,' and you could put whoever you want. And he asked for permission to put Alaina. And like I broke down."
"You know, it was a hard time the day of the Senior Bowl game. And I had that sticker to call. I kind of took a deep breath. I had to step away from the phone and kind of clear it up a little bit," Meinerz says.
Now as Quinn goes viral on social media, he uses the power of the platform, with Belly of the Beast and Hugs 4 Alaina shirts.
"When I put my hands on it, it actually made two little hearts, in the middle of the palm area, which is really cool," Alaina Shelsta says.
One more connection. Meinerz's nickname is the gut. Alaina has GLUT. Just one letter difference.
"I mean, I might just be the GLUT. Like I don't know," Meinerz says. "I'll start turning the, 'hey, where are we going here.'"
But it shows how a budding football pro draws inspiration from a fellow warrior.
"You know, you look at the Hugs 4 Alaina page. You can't find, you can't find a picture where she's not smiling. You can't find a time, where she's not," Meinerz says.
"He's a great football player, but he's an even better person," Paul Shelsta says.
"We're talking about how big his gut is and everything, but he's got a much bigger heart," Chris Shelsta says.
See their GoFundMe page here, and their Facebook page below: