Editor’s Note: Arash Madani is a reporter and commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. He is a weekly columnist for 3DownNation.
Not long after Alexia Kontolemos was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, she went quiet from the outside world. Her husband, Anthony Calvillo, left the Alouettes to tend to his wife and their children that autumn. But when Alexia began chemotherapy, it was difficult for her to return calls from friends or respond to emails from those offering support.
After a few days of radio silence, Jennifer Miles opened her closet and pulled out a suitcase.
Miles had her husband Barron, then a B.C. Lions defensive back, become Mr. Mom and boarded a flight from Vancouver to Montreal. A few hours later, Jennifer knocked on the door at the Calvillo house, unannounced, armed with homemade get well cards from the Miles’ three children.
“She just showed up at our door,” Calvillo marveled over the phone on Monday night. “She dropped everything she was doing to be here, for us, for our family.”
Calvillo paused. He started to speak again. Then his voice started to crack.
“That’s the kind of person Jen is,” Calvillo said. “All Jen could think about was doing everything in her power to make Alexia, to make all of us, feel comfortable. To help. She’s that kind of person. She has that kind of heart.”
Today, Jennifer Miles is dealing with her own serious health issue, an abdominal condition that, according to the Buono family, “has left the family and doctors searching for answers.”
A procedure that carries a $30,000 price tag would help specialists identify what is wrong. Time is of essence. This GoFund page has been created to help raise money. They’re about half-way there, a who’s who from the CFL having already contributed.
Executives like John Hufnagel, Marcel Desjardins, Jeremy O’Day, Craig Reynolds and Len Rhodes have donated. Coaches Jason Maas, Bob Dyce and Greg Quick are among those to help. The list of past and present players to open their wallets – even hall of famers Milt Stegall and Doug Brown, who never played with Miles – is incredible.
Davis Sanchez played with, and for, Barron Miles in Montreal and B.C. He may have said it best: “Their family has been a figurehead family around the league for the past 20 years.”
Indeed, the Miles family has been a staple across the Canadian Football League since Barron broke in with Montreal in 1998. He was a terrific defensive back with the Alouettes until 2004, then left to join the BC Lions for the next five years – still an all-star in his final season in Vancouver. He’s been coaching ever since. Many believe Barron is worthy of induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. It’s a hard argument to dispute.
Calvillo and Miles broke into the CFL together in 1998, so, too, did Mark Washington. The three were on the Alouettes team that won a championship in 2002. Jennifer and Barron were already married with their oldest daughter, Raven.
“Jen was the organizer of everything,” remembers Washington, now the Lions defensive coordinator. “Get-togethers, dinners at Grey Cups, Jen was the organizer and got everybody together. If Jen said ‘we had to be there at six o’clock,’ we were there at six o’clock.”
Washington pauses, thinking back to all those times he and Barron lined up next to one another in that Alouettes secondary, of all those wins together and of all those days and nights working together in BC’s coaches offices.
“She was always fully involved. She was the centerpiece,” he said.
Thanksgiving dinners? They’d be at the Miles house. Jen recruited the players to come over, even the big eaters on the offensive and defensive lines, then cooked for them all.
The Miles story is he, and she. As the tale goes, they met in their freshman year at the University of Nebraska, and, as Washington puts it, “they’ve been each other’s shadow since.”
Jen went with Barron from Pittsburgh, where he first broke into the pros with the Steelers, to NFL Europe, then Montreal. The Miles and Calvillo families became quite close, vacationing each winter together. It didn’t change when the Miles’s moved to Vancouver, and since Barron has coached in B.C., Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and now Edmonton.
“You know what they’ve done everywhere? Things for others,” said Washington.
In Montreal, they organized a charity basketball game – making sure Calvillo and other big name players showed, while also handling the marketing for the event – to raise money for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. If Barron had an idea, Jenn would be the organizer behind it.
“Next thing you know, it was done. She made all the calls,” says Washington. “People remember Barron Miles. People remember Jen Miles and the impact they’ve made.”
They’re a prideful couple, though. When it comes to their own lives, their own adversity, they often keep matters to themselves. It wasn’t until the Buono family went public with Jennifer’s condition that many outside of Miles’ close circle even knew something was wrong.
After all they’ve done for others, perhaps now CFL fans with the means to do so can donate to them. Every little bit helps.
The Calvillo’s know how huge even the smallest gestures in a time of need can be. Nearly a decade after Jennifer Miles showed up out of the blue on their doorstep, just to be there, just to remind them to smile, just to lend a hand, it’s Anthony now trying to help his friends in their time of need. The league’s greatest quarterback ever is now happy to hear that the GoFund page is closer to its fundraising goal. He knows it’s only the start to getting their friend Jen better. He’s trying to get the word out, too.
“They’re special people,” said Calvillo. “To us, and to so many.”
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