Community Hospice Care is inviting the public to spend "An Evening with Bruce Gradkowski" March 4 in Elizabeth Schaefer Auditorium. Professional football fans know him as a backup quarterback with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Pittsburgh native also was a standout on The University of Toledo football team during his college years.
Gradkowski said his family included a number of football players on the teams of Morehead State, the University of Pittsburgh and West Virginia State. His cousin, T.J. Conley, and his brother, Gino Gradkowski, play in the National Football League (Browns and Ravens, respectively). As a youth, Gradkowski always followed the Steelers and occasionally got to attend some Steelers games. Now, he is proud to be part of the team.
"Coming from Pittsburgh, everyone is a Steelers fan. It's exciting to watch the Steelers ... and go to some games and look up to some of the guys that play in the NFL, especially guys like Dan Marino (Hall of Fame inductee) who is from my area. He went on to play for the Dolphins. It's pretty special," Gradkowski said.
After high school graduation, he had scholarship offers to play football for a couple of smaller colleges and from The University of Toledo. A visit to UT helped him to make up his mind.
"I was really impressed by their campus, but more importantly, by the people that were there - the professors, the coaches and the community. That's what really made me fall in love with Toledo," Gradkowski said.
That also was the place he met his wife, Miranda Lucius, a UT student who grew up in Seneca County. She and Gradkowski attended church at Corpus Christi parish on campus.
"Actually, I always would see her in church. ... I never got a chance to talk to her for the longest time. Then, in my senior season, I saw her again and we started talking," he said.
Their relationship became a romance. They were engaged at Corpus Christi, where the wedding also took place. Now, the couple has a daughter, Liliana Rae.
Gradkowski said he enjoys being a dad. He talks about the Catholic Church's teachings on "the sacredness of marriage and human life" in a Dec. 17, 2013, article in the National Catholic Reporter.
His daughter's birth was a special event.
"It's probably the best day for myself and my wife," he said. "It's a true blessing. She's 10 months old right now and she definitely has us all wrapped around her little finger."
In 2006, Gradkowski started his professional football career with Tampa Bay. He was passed along to St. Louis, Cleveland, Oakland and Cincinnati before signing with the Steelers.
As is the case for most athletes, Gradkowski has been injured several times over the years. In college, he had two surgeries on a broken right hand. The same year, he tore the left posterior labrum in his shoulder. During his third NFL season, he tore his left pectoral muscle from the bone and injured the anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees.
Gradkowski was able to recover from everything and return to the playing field.
"I feel good. I'm going into my ninth NFL season. It's been a true blessing, and I thank God every day for it," he said.
Gradkowski is considering other options for life after football. He is thankful for his college degree. He owns two restaurants, Gradkowski's on the UT campus and Social in Perrysburg.
"I enjoy that, but I'm not sure. I've thought about coaching. I thought about getting into other things. I'm actually going to try to start a hospice program myself at some point," Gradkowski said.
For now, he is supporting Community Hospice by appearing at the benefit. A buffet dinner is to be served at 6 p.m., followed by Gradkowski's presentation and autograph session. He said he has donated his time for children's hospitals and charities in the other cities where he has lived.
"Anything I can help with and help the community, I do it," he said.
For young athletes wanting to play professional sports, he tells them to "take care of your business in the classroom" in addition to training and practicing their sports. Gradkowski emphasizes sports can end at any time, but a good education enables a person to move on to other occupations.
"You have to take care of the most important things first, like your faith and your school work. If you don't do well at school, you won't be able to be on the football field or the basketball court," Gradkowski said. "We all have big dreams and aspirations, and I think, no matter what, if you believe in yourself, you can make it come true."
Tickets for "An Evening with Bruce Gradkowski" are $30 each or $200 for a table of eight. For reservations, call (419) 447-4040.