Kole Bailey lost his mother, Christy Bailey, to cancer on April 4, 2018. But through this greatest of griefs, the Boise State offensive lineman has found his greater purpose.
Life is weird that way.
“It was definitely a spiritual journey when my mom passed away and definitely got me in touch with, ‘Why am I here?’ — all those big questions that humanity has been asking themselves since the beginning of time,” Bailey said.
“Just going through that journey and understanding how blessed I am to be able to have an impact on people while I’m playing this great game, that’s what’s inspired me to really think about that every day when I wake up and make an effort to touch other’s lives as much as I can.”
Bailey, a redshirt junior, has been named to the watch lists for the AFCA Allstate Good Hands Team and the Wuerffel Trophy, awards given annually to college football players who make an impact off the field through community service.
“He’s taken a negative situation and turned it into a positive in his life, in my opinion,” Boise State coach Bryan Harsin said. “... He’s contributed to our program in a very positive way. Our program, our logo gets recognized in the community for the work he’s doing, and that means a lot to us. It may not be football-related, but that means a lot to the development of our program, what we’re trying to do, the people we’re trying to reach, future recruits, everybody, and he’s been a big key to that.”
Throughout the two years his mother was battling tongue cancer, Bailey spent many weekends driving back and forth between Boise and his hometown of Twin Falls. He was his mother’s point person on insurance and handled the bills, all while attending classes as a pre-med major and practicing full time with the Broncos’ football team.
“I think it was like a 2-year-long adrenaline rush. I felt like I was able to handle all that just because of how much my mom meant to me,” Bailey said. “It wasn’t really a challenge, just rising to the occasion. You learn a lot of that through football and just life. It was really important to me, so there were a lot of weekends where I was driving down and coming back up. I missed several weeks of school and football when she was in and out of the hospital the last several months of her life.”
Earning a college scholarship and getting a degree always had been his mother’s dream for him. Bailey knew going to games and seeing him thrive in the classroom gave her joy and strength as she went through chemo treatments. His coaches and professors helped him keep up with his obligations and still allowed for the flexibility to drop everything at a moment’s notice.
In between all that, Bailey found time to volunteer, signing up to be a pen pal at a local elementary school, visiting sick kids at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital and stopping in to brighten the day of nursing home residents. Last May, he even helped fulfill a dying man’s last wish.
“I let him come to me with the things he wanted to talk about, and then on the other side you saw the true man he is in handling everything, and then on top of that going through it and then just really diving into things he’s really passionate about, which is the state of Idaho, the city of Boise and all the community service,” Boise State offensive line coach Brad Bedell said.
“He’s trying to help other people. He went through adversity and there’s other people that are going through it, too, that he can help and touch. I think that’s a really big thing for him, and I’m very proud of him in that regard that he saw that and he took leadership.”
Bailey wasn’t one to speak openly and often about his mother’s cancer, but he did share a letter she wrote to the team shortly before she died. His mom’s words and Bailey’s example of strength impacted the whole team.
Bailey reviews the letter about once a week “just to remind myself.”
“It was very emotional and powerful, and it came from her heart,” junior cornerback Avery Williams said of the letter. “She was just telling us there’s going to be adversities in your life, there’s going to be times where you’re down, but just like her with what she was going through, she kept pushing. You keep fighting, you keep fighting until the last day.
“That’s always good advice, you hear things like that, but from someone going through something like that, it feels different. It’s emotionally different coming from someone that’s living that in the moment. Just to read that as a team, that really brought us together.”
Adversity found its way into Bailey’s football life, too. During a weightlifting session in the summer of 2018, he partially severed his right thumb as he was putting the bar back on the rack after doing hang cleans. He spent the first half of the 2018 season in a plastic cast.
Teammates say he never complained.
“Just watching how he’s grown and has continued to grow throughout complete adversities he’s had to deal with, he’s a grown man, and he’s handled it that way,” Williams said. “We go to the same church every single Sunday, and he has every right to sit here and complain and be down because of the stuff he’s went through, and he’s the exact opposite. He’s the guy that brings people up. He’s super competitive in practice and that just makes you smile when you see stories like that, someone who goes through that and doesn’t give up.”
Bailey, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound reserve guard, is on track to graduate in December but hasn’t played in a game yet. He switched his major from pre-med to psychology and hopes to provide support for others going through loss.
“She raised me. She was a single mom. She married my stepdad in late middle school or early high school, so we went through pretty much everything together. She worked long shifts to make ends meet, so I had to take on a lot of responsibility from a young age,” Bailey said.
“But I am the most grateful for that, and everything we went through together built a really strong bond and made me the man I am today. ... Now being able to impact other people and carry on the lessons that she taught me and remembering her every day, that’s how I deal with the loss.”