Benefit for AJ Raebel being held tonight

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When the news first spread in January that AJ Raebel was diagnosed with testicular cancer, many knew that they had to help the former UW-Whitewater football player in some fashion.

Led by former Warhawk running back Justin Beaver, the Cure 33 Fund was established, where people could simply give a cash donation that went directly to Raebel’s hospital bills his insurance didn’t cover.

But tonight inside Kachel Gymnasium there will be another opportunity for students and community members to show their support for the two-time All-American linebacker.

A benefit titled, “A Night for AJ” takes place at 7 p.m. The event is $5 in advance or $6 at the door and all proceeds will go directly to the Cure 33 Fund.

“We’re really excited about [tonight] and the opportunity to celebrate AJ and to be able to rally everyone together and to provide him with some support that he needs for his financial situation,” UW-Whitewater athletic director Paul Plinske said. “I know he’s looking forward to it.”

However, Raebel, who is scheduled to be in attendance, doesn’t know how he’ll react to the event.

“It’s going to be very emotional,” he said Sunday afternoon. “I expect a lot of people to be taken back, because some might not understand the severity of the chemotherapy.”

At tonight’s event there will be three basketball games that include the UW-Whitewater coaches taking on Raebel’s former football teammates (2004-2007); the 2007 national championship team against the 2009 Stagg Bowl championship team and a contest featuring the 2009 men’s wheelchair basketball national champions battling the 2009 football title team.

Following those 10-15 minute games, men’s wheelchair basketball coach Jeremy Lade will give a tutorial on the fundamentals of wheelchair basketball.

In addition, the Milwaukee Bucks Rim Rockers dunk team will give a performance.

Tom Pattison, who has broadcasted Warhawk football and basketball games the last 24 years, was the driving force, along with former UW-Whitewater football coach Bob Berezowitz, in the benefit.

“When you have a debilitating illness you feel like you’re out on an island,” said Pattison, who is a stroke survivor. “So for him to get close with former teammates hopefully gives him a better frame of mind and that’s the goal.”

Berezowitz, who recruited Raebel out of Cary Grove High School (Ill.) in 2004, knew he couldn’t let his former player down in a time of need.

“Here is a young man hit with this destructive illness who is just beginning life after college and a lot of the bills are not covered by insurance,” Berezowitz said. “We always say once a Warhawk always a Warhawk.”

UW-Whitewater senior kicker Jeff Schebler, who played with Raebel during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, shares the same sentiment with his former head coach.

“I hope students realize how important this is,” Schebler said. “And as a team, we’re so close and tight that we’ll do anything for each other.”

 While he said he’d be forever grateful for the support, Raebel, who was diagnosed with the cancer in November, said there have been times of doubt.

“There would be just days where I would just sit and just look at the clock go by,” Raebel said.

Raebel said the chemotherapy has taken a major toll on his body since the treatments began on Jan. 18.

During the last seven weeks, he’s dealt with countless bouts of nausea, fatigue, lack of appetite, shortness of breath and has had to accept that his hair is gone.

Moreover, he just spent 40 hours last week in the hospital recovering from side effects of the chemotherapy.

“It’s killing you, but hopefully it kills the cancer first,” Raebel said.

Plinske is excited Raebel will be in attendance tonight, but he still worries about his condition.

“Big crowds aren’t good, because his defense mechanism is so low,” said Plinske, who is also a testicular cancer survivor. “He doesn’t have the white blood cell count to fight off infection or any type of sickness, so he just needs to be careful.”

Raebel agreed with Plinske but is just looking forward to seeing his old teammates and having a little fun.

“I probably shouldn’t be hugging people,” said Raebel, who added the doctors are confident the chemotherapy has wiped out the cancer. “But I think I should be fine, and I’m not too worried about catching a cold.”

While it’s been difficult at times, Raebel, who will undergo his final chemotherapy treatment next week, has simply tried to stay positive during this challenging juncture in his life.

“Hopefully, the worst of it is over,” Raebel said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”