Coach P.J. Fleck and Spare Key Families: Bounce and not Break and Row the Boat as a way of life


Spare Key,, celebrates its 20th Anniversary this year of serving families with critically ill and seriously injured children by providing housing grants on their behalf.

In the 20 years since Robb and Patsy Keech began the organization as a living tribute to their son, Derian, who earned his Angel Wings at 2 ½ years old, Spare Key has served over 3,100 families with almost $3.2 million in housing grants.

Since 2012 our motto has been we help families “Bounce and not Break.”

The motto came from the comments of a Spare Key family recipient during a radio interview in St. Cloud, Minnesota who, when responding to the importance of the support she received from Spare Key.

What she meant by the phrase was that in the period of the worst crisis a family can experience – the serious illness, critical injury or death of a child – Spare Key provided the family with support at time when the family was on the verge of falling apart.


Thanks to Spare Key her family, and thousands of others, have not broken.

They have bounced.

Bounced back from crisis.

Financial and emotional crisis, to be sure.

But also, crisis of spirt.  Of hope.  Of the future.

Spare Key can’t fix the broken body, or the failing heart or the passing life, but we are a source of support a time when a family desperately needs a partner to “Bounce and not Break.”

It is this mission and purpose and motto that finds me attracted to the passion and energy of the University of Minnesota’s new football coach, P.J. Fleck.

In an interview, I have read where Coach Fleck explains the story behind his own personal motto, “Row the Boat”, I find similarity of purpose behind his life – and the mission of Spare Key.

According to Fleck, “Row The Boat first came to the forefront when my wife and I lost our second child…We had a second son after Carter, we had a second son name Colt. And Colton had a heart condition and we lost him shortly after birth. We knew toward the end of the pregnancy that we were going to lose him, it was just a matter of how long he’d be with us. We got to spend time with him, be with him, hold him. But to watch your son pass away in your wife’s arms is an amazing experience in terms of the amount of sorrow and the amount of frustration, questions.”

Heartbreaking in its own right, Fleck and his wife could have turned to the darkness in their despair.

Instead, they turned to the light and hope.

Fleck goes on to say “Hey, no matter what happens, no matter what we’re going to do here, we’re just going to keep rowing. Whatever turns out, however it turns out, we’re just going to keep rowing. Then when it does turn out, good or bad, we’re just going to keep rowing, keep rowing and keep rowing. So, it was able to, at least, help my method to get through some type of adversity.”

Coach Fleck channels the mission of Spare Key in so many ways.

Not because of a simple slogan or motto.

But, because of the way he has lived his life and given purpose to a tragedy.

Robb and Patsy Keech did the same thing 20 years ago.

I have no doubt that Robb and Patsy would have much rather had a son who lived longer than Spare Key has been in service to families like their own.

I do know that they see Spare Key as the living, beating heart of a boy named Derian who, in his short life, lead a parade of kindness while his heart slowly but surely wore out.

In the midst of tragedy and suffering Coach Fleck and Robb and Patsy Keech did not dwell in their loss.

They sought to celebrate the life of their sons by living a life of purpose.

For Coach Fleck, it has been a life of purpose and passion for a sport he loves and the community he has served within and outside that sport.

For Robb and Patsy Keech it has been an organization that embraces the next 20 years as more than a tribute to their son, but as his life’s continued purpose here on Earth.

Row the Boat.  Bounce and not Break.

Whatever your motto, slogan or mantra is not what will define you.

It is what you do with it that matters.

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