The first short walk 6-year-old Luke Akerstrom took in public since a rare form of encephalitis unexpectedly struck him last New Year's Eve consisted of a few slow steps into the waiting arms of Jacksonville Jaguars center Brad Meester. As the rest of the Jags players and coaches watched, Akerstrom took five steps on the team's training field, the first he had taken alone since a 35-minute seizure last Dec. 31 confined him to a wheelchair.
Luke had to walk again. He had to. "Mommy," he said to his mother a few weeks ago, "I have to walk because Jaguars don't roll, they run."
Meester, his wife Jamie and Jaguars communications director Ryan Robinson met Luke while he was at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital earlier this year and immediately developed a rapport with the youngster.
"One of my daughters is the same age, exact same age as he is," Brad Meester told Tania Ganguli of The Florida Times-Union, who chronicled this inspirational story for the newspaper. "We kept going back every week to see him. Every week we kept working harder to see him."
The Meesters watched him go through physical therapy, sat with the family while Luke received a painful spinal tap and, along with Robinson, helped take care of Luke and his younger brother one night so Luke's parents could get a night alone to celebrate their wedding anniversary.
And when it's time to take the Meester's daughters to visit Luke, they argue about who gets to go.
Luke took his first few tentative steps at home last week with his parents hovering. But on Thursday, when he walked all by himself into Brad's waiting arms, Jamie watched in the background, crying.
"I hope that my kids learn from him, to strive for things," Jamie Meester told the newspaper. "And if you work hard at it, it'll come true. I think that's great that he's been able to show us that."
Chris Chase writes for Yahoo! Sports' NFL blog, Shutdown Corner.