WATCH: Zaching Through the Pain
Patch catches up with Zach Lederer, subject of the "Zaching" internet sensation, as he undergoes cancer treatment and continues to inspire.
Every day, Zach Lederer, 18, forces himself to do 50 pushups and lift weights in the 6-by-15 foot gym in his family's Ellicott City, MD, home.
That might not seem unusual for a teenage boy, but Lederer is defying expectations for a patient undergoing radiation and chemotherapy for brain cancer.
"Every time I go up in that room and lift one weight, I'm doing the impossible," Lederer said in a recent interview.
In early February, a photo went viral on the Internet and Twitter with a scrappy-looking college kid sitting in a hospital bed flexing his biceps. To the casual observer, he may have just come out on top in a schoolyard fight.
But for Lederer--the young man in the photo–the battle is deadly serious.
At the time, Lederer was recovering from brain surgery to remove a tumor. His father, John, wanted to make sure the rest of the family knew Zach had made it out okay, so he posted the picture on Facebook.
Hours later, his cousins, Jon Feldman and Joey O’Dwyer, lifted their arms in the same pose in a show of strength and solidarity, and posted as well.
“The ‘Tebow’ is no longer ‘in,’" read the caption, referring to the drop-on-one-knee-and-pray pose started by then-Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. "Now it’s the Zach Lederer,” read the caption. “Stay strong, big man. We love you!”
Within days, Patch and other media outlets had covered Zach's story, and his muscle-flexing pose was being struck by people from around the world on Twitter, including the likes of celebrities like Jay Leno, Adam Sandler and Lil' Wayne.
Dozens of sports anchors, television actors and athletes have been documented, along with hundreds of caring citizens, in the "Zaching" photo blog on Tumblr.
In March, ESPN profiled Lederer, who is a manager for the University of Maryland basketball team, and he shared his childhood battles and victories over cancer with the nation.
All the while, Lederer knew there was still a lot of radiation treatment, chemotherapy and hours in hospital beds awaiting him.
That treatment has now begun.
Two chemotherapy and blood testing tubes currently hang from his chest. Every morning, he starts his day by carefully flushing out the tubes and taking a somewhat meticulous shower, avoiding damage to the medical contraptions attached to his body. He is bald, with multiple surgical scars lining his scalp.
Since his surgery in February, he has been going five days a week to Johns Hopkins Medical Center for radiation and chemotherapy,which he hopes will be unnecessary by the end of the summer.
After each session, he tries to nap off the nausea and fatigue.
Then he does that impossible thing, and picks up his weights.
"One of the first days that I heard I was getting chemo, my first question was–can I still work out?" recalled Lederer.
"They said, 'If you can work out, by all means do it, but there's no way you'll be capable while going through treatments,'" Lederer says. "So, one of the bigger reasons I'm working out, is to do the impossible."
Lederer, a survivor of what doctors had deemed terminal cancer when he was 11, is used to beating the odds.
"One thing that hasn't changed is my attitude. I was positive before and I'm positive after," Lederer said.
He makes regular appearances at cancer relays and survivor gatherings, sometimes giving inspirational speeches to cancer patients.
Lederer has been a guest of honor at events where literally thousands of people showed their "Zaching" prowess, including the American Cancer Society Celebration of Birthdays for survivors and caregivers, the Race For Hope in Washington, D.C., and the Frederick County Relay For Life.
Filling up his schedule with workouts, events and "normal college life" keeps Lederer focused.
"I'm busy as can be with interviews and speaking engagements," says Lederer, "but in my mind that's a great thing, because I'm not thinking about treatment."
Lederer does not anticipate any further surgeries, and he hopes to be finished with therapy and in full form by the fall, just in time for Midnight Madness–Maryland basketball's first official practice of the year.
Check out how Zach stays positive, in his own words, in the accompanying video.
For more on Patch coverage of Zach Lederer:
- 'Zaching': Maryland Teen With Brain Cancer Inspires Web Phenomenon
- ‘Zaching,’ ESPN and Fame for Ellicott City Teen Fighting Cancer
- The Man Behind 'Zaching' On Video
- Maryland Students Get Free T-Shirts in Honor of Lederer
- ‘Zaching’ at the Howard County Police Department
- Howard County Delegation Comes Together for 'Zaching'