Student-athlete turns injury into opportunity to send smiles to sick kids

Author: Michelle McDaniel

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Kevin and Ian McMillen chat with Maxim during a Notre Dame lacrosse practice.

Maxim Manyak ’24 committed to playing lacrosse at Notre Dame as a high school sophomore in Los Angeles, but in his first practice, he tore his ACL. Surgery and rehab would be a full-year endeavor, effectively halting his first season with the Irish before it even began. As winter descended, he fell into despair.

Across town, a 10-year-old boy named Ian McMillen also received a devastating medical diagnosis: leukemia.

In near synchronicity, Ian and Maxim discovered Fighting Irish Fight for Life, which pairs athletic teams with chronically ill children.

Inspired by Snapchat’s popular micro-videos, Maxim sent Ian a quick pump-up video.

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Ian McMillen surrounded by the Notre Dame lacrosse team.

Ian’s response was so positive Maxim sent another. And another. And asked his teammates to do the same. The videos continued every day. With Ian’s nurses’ encouragement, Maxim decided to expand his impact and start his own business, Pediatric Pep Talk.

Pediatric Pep Talk is now a nonprofit, app-based platform that can connect critically ill children with college athletes nationwide. All 26 varsity teams and over 800 student-athletes from Notre Dame are involved, and the app has since spread to schools including Northwestern, Hofstra, USC, Ohio State, and Arkansas. 

Rockne members invest in tomorrow’s leaders in and out of the classroom, providing opportunities for student-athletes to make an impact worldwide. From funding student-athlete scholarships to expanding injury prevention, recovery, and rehab resources, Rockne members help student-athletes become true champions.

Learn more about how Rockne makes stories like these possible ›

Read more about Maxim and his journey ›