As the charter bus backed into Comcast Center on Saturday afternoon and the Maryland men’s basketball team loaded up the luggage compartments for its road trip to Florida State, the minds of everyone lingered elsewhere. Zachary Lederer, the 20-year-old muscle-flexing former basketball manager who motivated thousands with his courage and inspired the move “Zaching,” has been taken off life support but continues to fight against the cancer spreading inside his body.
His father, John, posted an update on Facebook:
Zachary update. Zachary’s cancer has spread and has caused some issues that required him to be put on life support. Zachary took advantage of the break as all fighters would do. When life support was removed he summoned the strength to continue his battle. He is actually doing better then the machine’s. Who would expect anything different. He is breathing very well, his vital signs are that of an athlete and he continues to exude love and affection to his family and friends. He is giving us another gift and teaching us about strength and endurance all the while supporting others. He is an amazing kid who has and will continue to inspire. We hope to take Zach home in the next day or so and utilize home hospice. We would like to thank the Centennial community, the UMD community, the Zaching community, the Hopkins family his friends and family for the love and support you have shown to Zachary and our family. It has truly been amazing. Bless you all.
The “Zaching” move first surfaced from a hospital bed, when Lederer looked into a camera and flexed his muscles, despite having just exited brain surgery that, the Baltimore Sun wrote, “had removed 80 to 90 percent of a cancerous tumor.” Soon the image spread worldwide, every repetition a reminder that, in the face of insurmountable odds, Lederer was still strong.
“It’s a very soft spot for me,” said Maryland forward Dez Wells, who lost a 7-year-old cousin to cancer when he was 14. “I texted his parents, I texted him. I’ve just been trying to keep in touch with everybody. I plan on going to his funeral. I’m sure our team will go, too. He’s been a great inspiration for me, just seeing somebody like that fight like he’s been doing. I just hope he doesn’t have to suffer too much longer. That’s all I’m praying, that he doesn’t have to suffer too much longer, or his family.
“I’m pretty sure they’ve come to grips about the situation, and when the time will come and how to handle it and stuff like that, but my family’s there for his family. I’ve talked to his mom and his father and I’ll continue to do that.”
Sunday night’s game in Tallahassee seems almost trivial at this moment, but for the former student manager who established a 3-on-3 basketball tournament to help raise money for the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation, Wells said he plans to dedicate all future games to him.
“He gives me a lot more motivation for the game,” Wells said. “It gives me something more to play for. I’ll be texting his mom and father once that day comes where he has to leave us. I’ll dedicate every game for the rest of my career to him, for the strength and courage and everything he’s done for everyone around him.”
Said Coach Mark Turgeon: “He’s been an inspiration to us and continues to be. … I know it’s not a very good situation right now for him. When he was here, what he’s gone through his whole life to this point and he was just so positive about it. The way he approached practice in my first year, we weren’t a very good basketball team and he didn’t accept that. He rubbed up on all of us. Then the way he handled the second surgery, the Zaching and the people he touched and the lives that he touched. I got an email from somebody that said he’s only 20 years old and he’s touched more people than some people who live to be 80. That really tells you how special Zach is.”
Several other current and former Maryland athletes offered their condolences and support on Twitter:
Keep fighting @ZLeds you inspire us all!!!
— MOJO JO JO (@PTrappin10) January 11, 2014
— Dexter McDougle (@Blasian_Kiddd) January 10, 2014
I posed for this picture 2 years ago after meeting one of the toughest dude I know. Zach Lederer one… http://t.co/sZg0sEFukO
— Charles Mitchell (@StuckLikeChuck1) January 10, 2014
Prayers up for @ZLeds and his family
— Torrey Smith (@TorreySmithWR) January 11, 2014