For Wyckoff’s Peter Schuh, a freshman football player at St. Joseph Regional High School in Montvale, giving back to the community has continued to be one of his passions. Between volunteering as an assistant football coach with the Wyckoff Pee Wee Recreation program and serving as a committee member for the Behind the Seams Fashion Show at Eva’s Village, a New Jersey nonprofit antipoverty organization, Peter has made it his mission to help others.
What sparked this enthusiasm for community outreach and volunteerism came as a result of Peter’s medical challenges and severe food allergies. Between kindergarten and fourth grade, Peter had been very sick and was diagnosed with asthma, Celiac Disease and a heart defect. Following these diagnoses, he had trouble swallowing among other symptoms that made it difficult for him to eat solid foods. This resulted in a 26-pound weight loss as a fourth grader.
After undergoing a series of tests five years ago, Peter was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE), a chronic, allergic inflammatory disease of the esophagus that causes symptoms like difficulty swallowing, choking on food and drooling.
Peter’s mother, Colleen Daly-Schuh, said that at this time, she was unsure if Peter would need to use a feeding tube. With the delivery of his diagnosis, Peter worried he would never be able to play sports again.
About a week after Peter’s diagnosis, Colleen had read an article about a softball player at Ramapo College (Kim LaPenta) who also has EoE and faced similar medical challenges. Colleen showed Peter the article, and she assured him that he would be able to play sports.
Colleen contacted Ramapo College, and they teamed up to introduce Peter to Kim, as well as plan an EoE awareness day with the Roadrunners’ softball team.
The awareness day consisted of a softball game where Peter threw out the first pitch. All proceeds went to the Cured Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to those suffering from eosinophilic gastrointestinal diseases. During the summer of 2017, the Schuh family and Ramapo College held a second awareness day.
Peter said all of the support he received from his family, friends, coaches and trainers who attended the game gave him hope to persevere and play sports, which he was able to do after building up his strength at a football camp and pinpointing a specific medical regimen he would follow. This consists of taking a swallowed metered-dose inhale of medicine, which helps Peter tolerate food, as opposed to using a feeding tube.
Peter’s commitment to football has also carried out into his volunteer work.
Before he started seventh grade, Peter contacted Eric Knight, his third and fourth grade football coach who is in charge of the Wyckoff Pee Wee football league, to see if he could help coach. Knight agreed, and Peter has been an assistant coach for three years.
“I think the beauty is that [the third and fourth graders] see that Pete’s been successful,” Knight said. “He overcame some pretty heavy challenges, and it was a ‘never say never’ type of an attitude where he went out and said, ‘I’m going to get better every day, and I’m going to succeed at whatever it is that I do.’”
Now, playing for the freshman football team at St. Joseph Regional High School, Peter is defying the odds, but with careful attention to his health.
In addition to adhering to a highly specific diet, prior to walking onto the field, Peter must follow a strict healthcare plan. This typically consists of nebulizing, ensuring that he has consumed enough fat, protein and sugar, checking his blood sugar, hydrating and packing his own cooler with anything he may need to sustain himself during a game or practice.
“It’s very disciplined and it’s very controlled, but it’s allowed him to do what he does and compete at a high level,” Colleen said. “In some aspects, it’s been a gift because it’s taught him how to be regimented and take care of his body.”
With his experiences providing him with ample knowledge on health, Peter paid this forward in assisting St. Joseph’s head football coach Augie Hoffman, who has Celiac Disease like Peter. While Hoffman said he used to not treat his gluten allergy seriously, he said it was Peter who educated him on how to take care of himself and live a healthier lifestyle.
Hoffman said within the last year, Peter’s insight has both humbled him and made a tremendous difference. While Peter currently plays on the freshman football team, not under the coaching of Hoffman, the two still share a strong bond. At the high school, Peter has his own room next to Hoffman’s office where he is accommodated with various kitchen appliances to avoid cross-contamination.
“[Hoffman] has been an incredible supporter, especially with my food allergies and life lessons and helping me get through everything,” Peter said.
Hoffman said Peter’s work ethic – in all phases of his life – is what stands out the most.
“He’s a tremendously talented athlete, but he takes that same work ethic into the classroom [and] into his service projects,” he said.
Peter’s love for football has gone beyond his dedication on the field. He has also used it as a platform to help others. After learning that his friend Payton Sargenti was diagnosed with cancer during the summer of 2017, Peter organized a fundraiser that consisted of selling football arm sleeves, helmet decals and headbands that read “Payton Strong.”
Peter helped raise over $4,600 and Payton was declared cancer free during the winter of 2017.
Peter said the impact that his football coaches have had on his life has taught him the value of giving back.
“I like to bring joy to people and make them feel like there’s hope,” he said.
Peter’s goal for the future is to create his own charity that merges his love for sports and children, specifically athletes, facing medical challenges. One element of this would be helping these children obtain the resources they need in order to participate in the sports they love.
“It’s a dream,” he said. “But I hopefully want to do it one day.”
By Brianna Ruback