Spring 2021

Special delivery

When M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital closed its doors to visitors, P.J. and Heather Fleck packaged “Row the Boat” spirit in a box instead

There are few places Golden Gopher head football coach P.J. Fleck would rather be than on the field. But M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital just might be one of them.

Alongside the members of his football team, Fleck and his wife, Heather, have made it a priority to visit the children’s hospital often, sharing smiles, fist bumps, and Ski-U-Mah chants with kids and their families.

When COVID-19 arrived, those visits came to an abrupt halt. The doors to Masonic Children’s Hospital were closed to visitors, so P.J. and Heather called an audible.

“We’re thinking about them each and every day,” Heather says. “So we created something special to remind them to keep rowing the boat”—to never give up.

P.J. and Heather Fleck are spreading their “never give up” spirit to hospitalized children and their families through Golden Gopher gift boxes.

Row the Boat boxes, created with support from Cub Foods, are a quintessentially Golden Gopher gift for kids of all ages. They’re filled with treats, including a foam football, a U of M blanket, a Row the Boat beanie, temporary Gophers tattoos, and a Ski-U-Mah slap bracelet. 

For parents and caregivers, P.J. and Heather have included a restaurant gift card meant for a date night away from the hospital or takeout from a favorite restaurant.

“Many families shared with us that the Row the Boat box made their day and helped make their hospital stay a little better,” says Theresa Bunkers, a child life specialist at Masonic Children’s Hospital. “This year has been one of uncertainty and change for all of us, but our patients and families know that support from the football team is one thing they can always count on.”

While the Gopher football family waits for its next opportunity to visit, the Flecks hope the gift boxes bring some much-needed Row the Boat spirit to the hospital. 

“Row the Boat is more than a rallying cry for our players,” P.J. says. “It’s a reminder to keep hope and faith alive, no matter what adversity or challenges come our way.”