The Wave is about moms, because moms are the best and Hawkeyes moms are the best of the best when the chips are down. It’s about two strangers. One from the east side of the state, one from the west, waving to one another, forever bound by a moment.
“It was, honestly, really heartwarming,” Amy Condon says from the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital, home to The Kinnick Wave, the coolest new tradition in college football.
“The hard part for us … the setback with our son is kind of momentary. And we know that we’re going to bring him home. We’re going to bring him home, and he’s going to be OK. To be with some of these families that aren’t sure that’s going to happen and to have this moment with them and just to be a part of it, it was quite a privilege, honestly.”
It’s about tiny George Condon of Davenport, Iowa, who sometimes sleeps better than his mother these days. He was born as a collodion baby a little more than three weeks ago, his skin covered with an extremely thin membrane.
“I hate comparing him to a sausage,” Amy says of her recovering newborn, “[but] that’s essentially what it was.”
They could see little joint marks where the skin was breaking. He was shiny. He was red. He was beautiful.
“We were like, ‘Oh, this is just a premature thing, he’ll grow out of it,’ ” Amy says. “And the doctors came in and said, essentially, ‘No.’ ”
Collodion babies are placed in a high-humidity chamber to help the membrane peel away naturally. The Condons have been told George probably has a form of ichthyosis — a rare skin condition that puts an infant at risk for pneumonia, fluid loss and dehydration. More than 16,000 babies are born each year with ichthyosis, which can make it impossible for someone to naturally regulate their body temperature through sweat and makes them more susceptible to bacterial infections. He’ll likely require frequent baths during the day and application of creams and ointments to help keep the skin moisturized.
“He’s doing really well,” Amy says. “Everyone always asks, ‘So when do you go home?’ But we also don’t know what kind of baby we’re going to end up with. Our whole philosophy with his [hospital] team has been, ‘Wait and see.’ Like I said, the nice part is he’s been stable the whole time.”
It’s about blessings.
The Condons count theirs every day.
“With the families we’ve run into,” Amy says softly, “everybody’s got a different story.”
Amy, husband J.J. and their oldest son, Benjamin, were among the 40-odd stories milling about on Level 12 of UI Children’s Hospital late Saturday morning watching the Hawkeyes kick off against Wyoming, waving to the masses:
The Condons had settled in last Friday. Child Life specialists, who provide emotional support for families and children during their hospital stay, stopped by with passes to watch the season opener in the press box — the wing at the west end of Level 12 that directly overlooks Kinnick Stadium across the street, providing an unobstructed view of the game below.
“They came in and said, ‘Do you want these tickets to the 12th floor?’ ” Amy says. “We’re like, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ So it was really good timing.”
Amy and J.J., a devout Hawkeyes fan, taught 2-year-old Benjamin some cheers. Some families watched with chairs up against the glass windows. Others stood. Others shuffled between the game and the snack tables and cheerleaders.
“It’s amazing,” Amy says. “You can see everything. It’s got to be one of the best seats in the house. You can literally see — if my friend were sitting right across from us in that [top] row of seats, I’d be able to wave to her.”
‘Great thing to happen for those kids and their families’
It’s about neighbors.
It’s about Krista Young, who at the end of the first quarter on Saturday turned from her seat on the visitors’ side of Kinnick and waved at Level 12 above. It’s about the feeling of pride and satisfaction that hit as she watched tens of thousands around her do the same.
“I got the perfect view,” Young says. “We normally sit in the north end zone. I said, ‘No, we’re going to be right underneath it.’ It was perfect. It all ended up perfectly.”
Young is a Hawkeyes fan from tiny Anita, Iowa, a dot on the map between Omaha and Des Moines, and a mother of three. In late May, she’d jumped on the popular Hawkeye Heaven Facebook page and posited a simple, heartfelt question:
“It was two sentences. It was just a thought,” Young says. “I kept seeing pictures of those kids [at the hospital] before football season. And practice started and seeing them looking down on the field, it’s heartbreaking. Just a quick thought, two seconds to type and it turned into this amazing, amazing blowout. There’s not a fancy story behind it. Just short and sweet, and it took off.”
If Krista’s post was the spark of The Wave, Hawkeye Heaven, launched by Levi Thompson in 2010, was the fuse. The fan page had more than 105,500 likes as of early Wednesday, but Saturday was its statement moment, the point when Thompson’s baby became a part of campus legend.
“Every Sunday from June until the first game, I put up a post saying, ‘Hey, after the first quarter, wave. Stand up and let’s wave to the Children’s Hospital,’ ” recalls Thompson, who served for eight years in the Air Force and started the page, in part, because he craved Hawkeyes news while stationed in locales such as Germany and Korea.
“I’m really excited that it happened. Really excited for those kids. I think it’s a great thing to happen for those kids and their families.”
Facebook is full of a lot of things these days, not all of them pleasant. But some concepts make too much sense not to take off.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a really neat idea, ‘I’ll push for that, absolutely, and let’s see what it can do,’ ” Thompson said.
— University of Iowa (@uiowa) September 3, 2017
It went viral. In a month in which the news has been dominated by natural disasters, global saber-rattling and political division, The Wave was breath of fresh air, a cleanse of humanity. The message has been hailed by big fish such as Scott Van Pelt and Dan Patrick and by non-sporting outlets such as The Today Show and ABC News.
“You know, I almost got upset the other day thinking about how it spread so much,” Young says. “It’s just a simple something. And I know it helps. I hope it helps. Are people so cold that they think this is such an amazing gesture?”
It’s about nice.
No university edicts.
“My biggest hope is that it doesn’t get some name,” Young laughs. “I don’t need it to be ‘The Panchero’s Wave.’
“But in the same sense, that means money. And maybe a portion of that would help [the hospital]. So it’s not all terrible.”
It’s about compassion.
It’s about grass roots.
“I didn’t want anything too complicated here,” Thompson says. “You get too [many] dynamics going on, it usually doesn’t pan out. If it’s something simple, it works. And sure enough, it worked.”
‘It just breaks my heart that they have to go through so much’
It’s about angels unseen.
It’s about inspiration.
It’s about thanks.
“Everyone keeps sending me stuff,” Young says. “I’ve been bawling for three days straight. I have a soft spot for kids. It just breaks my heart that they have to go through so much, you know what I mean?”
It’s about lifting some hearts and changing others.
“It’s such a unique tradition,” Amy Condon says. “And to know that this school and this hospital has taken such good care of us is a pretty incredible feeling.”
It’s about Amy, waving back from Level 12, who grew up in Wisconsin rooting for the Badgers and Michigan Wolverines.
It’s about community.
It’s about love.
“I’m not necessarily a Hawkeye fan; I’m not from Iowa,” Amy says. “But in that moment — how can you not be an Iowa fan after that?”
Mother knows best.