The fall of 1979 was a scary and sad time for my family because of what happened to my older brother.
In a matter of weeks, Frank Harty had gone from being a big and healthy redshirt freshman linebacker for the Iowa football team to a frail kid whose body was being ravaged by the effects of a staph infection in his knee.
The recovery process took so long that my brother had to basically take a semester of classes from his hospital bed. His football career was over, but thankfully, his knee was spared, although, damaged for life.
It was during that recovery process when I experienced for the first time the power of John Streif, who will retire from his job as University of Iowa assistant athletic trainer on Jan 2. John was still relatively new at his job back then after joining the Iowa athletic department in 1972.
But he already was a force within the athletic department because of how he treated people, particularly the student-athletes.
My family learned right away that John was no ordinary trainer. His influence went far beyond helping student-athletes heal physically. His power came simply by caring.
My family lived in Des Moines at the time, so it was reassuring to know that John was watching over my brother. I can’t tell you how many times we crossed paths with John while visiting my brother in the hospital.
I remember thinking that there were approximately 135 players on the Iowa football team, and yet this guy who looks like Radar O’Reilly from the popular television show MASH keeps making time for my brother, who hadn’t even played in a game for the Hawkeyes.
I remember the trips back and forth from Des Moines to Iowa City to visit my brother and listening to my mother praise John for caring about her son.
She praised John again on Thursday when told he was retiring.
“He’s a great man,” my mother said.
My brother also praised John when told about his retirement. My brother thought back to that dark period in his life and how John’s presence shined so brightly.
“He really did, he watched out for me,” my brother said Friday morning. “He consulted with the medical staff and it was like having my own counselor.”
One of the lowest points for my brother came when he stopped taking painkillers as part of the recovery process. His body and his mind were so used to taking the medication that being without it caused an adverse reaction.
My brother left the hospital one night without permission and without changing out of his hospital gown. He eventually was spotted near the Iowa River by somebody who apparently recognized him as an Iowa football player. My brother still says to this day that he was headed to the bus station in order to travel to Davenport even though he had no connections to the city.
“I was incoherent,” my brother said.
He soon would be in good hands, though, because Streif came and rescued my brother and took him back to the hospital. Streif also helped my brother find a psychiatrist who then helped my brother adjust to life without painkillers.
“He didn’t have to come and get me or help me get off painkillers,” said my brother, who now lives in West Des Moines, is married with four children and works as a labor lawyer. “He was kind of like having a big brother watching out for you.”
John and I were reunited in a sense when I was hired at the Press-Citizen in 1991 to help cover the Hawkeyes.
My job as a columnist has caused me to be critical of the Hawkeyes at times, but never has John held that against me. It takes a special person to be able to separate the two.
It also takes a special person to be able to gain the trust and respect of everybody with whom he interacts. John is that person.
It’s almost become cliché to say that I’ve never heard a person say a bad thing about John Streif. But it’s the truth. He’s the kind of person we aspire to be like, but most of us fall short in some areas.
I’ve interviewed countless UI student-athletes who come from different backgrounds and they all say the same thing about John Streif.
They immediately smile at the mention of his name and then praise him for being genuine and kind. Some even have shared stories about John going out of his way to make them feel special.
It’ll take some getting used to not having John around. And that’s coming from somebody in the media.
Imagine how the student-athletes, the coaches and his co-workers must feel.
On top of being a nice person, John also excels at his job. He added the position of travel coordinator in 1980 and has been meticulous in his approach.
You know with Streif that every road trip will be planned out in precise detail and will be as convenient as possible for the coaches and student-athletes.
My wish now is for John to enjoy a long and happy retirement because he certainly deserves it. He’s dedicated his life to helping and caring about others.
It’s now time for John to care about himself.
Category: Hawkeye news