Winning One for the Gipper

As a Young Life leader it’s safe to assume your responsibilities will include leading club and Campaigner meetings, recruiting and training leaders, spending time at the school and taking buses of kids to camp. These were the primary tasks for Chuck Scott, area director in Gwinnett County, Ga., until he received a call the day of Sept. 6, 2003. In that moment his job and his life were about to change forever.

Gip Gayle, a freshman in college and one of Scott’s former Young Life kids, had gone hunting when a friend accidentally fired his gun, hitting Gip in the head from less than 26 feet away. He was now in a hospital, clinging to his life.

Life in the balance

Immediately following the accident, as Gip lay unconscious with a crushed skull, an amazing chain of events began to take place. In this remote field one of the hunters’ cell phones actually had a signal; the EMT arrived in less than 10 minutes; and a Life Flight crew, grounded due to a storm but realizing they were Gip’s only hope of survival, braved the elements and airlifted Gip to Savannah.

The Vidalia Sheriff telephoned Gip’s father, Richard, informing him of the accident; but he couldn’t confirm if Gip was still alive. Taking their other son, Taylor, with them, Richard and Beth Gayle drove the excruciating five hours to Savannah, calling everyone they knew to ask them to pray for Gip.

The Gayles arrived at the hospital to learn that Gip had been given his last rites by a local priest and that he had little chance of survival. Despite this dire news, however, Gip did survive. The victim of a traumatic brain injury, Gip would have to relearn how to do almost everything. From eating to walking to reading and writing, the challenges that lay ahead were immense.

Heroes in life

Not only was Chuck Scott Gip’s Young Life leader and football coach, he was also his close friend. “Gip was the kid I was closest to at Collins Hill High School,” Scott said. “He was my sons’ favorite player and is one of their heroes in life.”

After contacting the Gayles, Scott immediately enlisted everyone he could to pray. Within minutes of the call, Scott was forming what would become a “Prayer Warrior” team for Gip. Within days prayer requests would be streaming around the world, as the team grew and grew. At one point Scott’s prayer list grew so large that he was shut down by AOL because of “spamming.” After explaining Gip’s situation to an AOL manager (who happened to be involved with Young Life when she was in high school) Scott was given an official spam account at AOL!

Because Gip was in critical condition, he was unable to have visitors, only family. “Chuck quickly became ‘Uncle Chuck,’” Beth Gayle explained, “and he literally dedicated the next few years of his life to helping Gip and our family. We don’t remember a day when Chuck was not at our side. He came to the hospital at a moment’s notice whenever Gip’s condition took a bad turn; and that happened often! He did whatever he could to bring smiles and laughter into our lives, at a time when we could barely breathe. Chuck Scott was ‘the face of Jesus’ in our lives! Since the day of Gip’s accident, Chuck has been there for us in every way possible; and so has his amazing wife, Julie, who supported him and took care of their family so that he could take care of ours.”

Gip himself echoes these sentiments, “There’s no way to list all the things Chuck did for me and my family. He prayed with me, sometimes for me when I couldn’t talk. He helped me in my therapies when I just couldn’t go on anymore. He made me laugh, even when there was nothing funny about what was happening to me.”

From simple acts of kindness (bringing Gip his first “non-hospital” meal — a Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwich and chocolate Frosty) to larger efforts (“a Louisiana State University National Championship Sugar Bowl party” at the hospital) Scott was there for the Gayles, caring for them when all they could possibly focus on was caring for Gip.

One special example of this care came the first Christmas that Gip was in the hospital. Because Gip’s condition demanded their constant attention, the Gayles were not ready for Christmas. When Gip’s brother, Taylor, asked if they were going to celebrate Christmas, his mom said that they certainly would celebrate the birth of Jesus, but they wouldn’t be able to decorate or go shopping that year.

Beth Gayle shared what happened next, “Chuck once again rallied the Young Life troops and they spent an entire day decorating our house for Christmas! As we drove home late that night from the hospital, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Our home lit up the entire neighborhood! Words cannot even begin to describe the joy in our hearts as we drove up our driveway! With tears in his eyes, Taylor screamed out ‘YES! We’re going to have a Christmas after all!’ How do you thank someone for that?”

You might be a friend of Gip’s if …

To say that Chuck Scott went the extra mile for Gip seems to be the greatest of understatements. No one could foresee what was to come next as Scott took yet another step of faith on behalf of his friend.

When the accident occurred, Gip was wearing a camouflage ball cap signed by Jeff Foxworthy, which he had won at a Young Life club. It was Gip’s favorite; he even called it his “lucky hat.” The blast from the gun went right between “Jeff” and “Foxworthy,” pretty much destroying the hat. Gip told Scott, “Man I’m so bummed about my hat.” Scott replied, “You survived this whole thing and you’re upset about your hat? I’ll get you another Foxworthy hat!” Determined to do just that, Scott exhausted all potential connections to Foxworthy, but had no luck. That very night Scott went to his son’s basketball game and minutes later, in walked Jeff Foxworthy, sitting 10 seats down from Scott on the same bleacher. Hating to bother Foxworthy, but realizing this was more than mere coincidence, Scott introduced himself and told Foxworthy that “this was a God moment.” After listening to Gip’s story, Foxworthy said, “I’ll get that guy more than a hat.” Foxworthy went home and told his wife, Gregg, and she said, “Oh yeah — Gip! I’ve been getting Chuck’s e-mails and praying for Gip every day.” The Foxworthys went with Scott to the Gayles’ house that week and the rest is history. “Jeff and Gip just hit it off from day one,” Scott explained. “He brought Gip three giant boxes of stuff — hats, DVDs, the works. He even autographed one of the hats, “Jeff Foxworthy — Do not shoot this hat!”

Beth Gayle said, “This was such a gift from God. Meeting Jeff, and of course laughing with him, lifted all of our spirits at a time when life was pretty tough.”

During their visit, Gip recounted the story of when he first woke out of his coma. Seeing all of his family there with him in the hospital, Gip wondered who was taking care of his beloved dog, so the first words out of his mouth were, “How’s Yeller?”

Foxworthy busted out laughing and said, “Gipper, I think I just found a new joke for my act! I love dogs too, and that story just touches my heart. That will forever be in my Redneck Hall-of-Fame.” Foxworthy put his new “Gipper joke” in his 2005 calendar: “You might be a redneck if the first thing you say when you come out of a coma is ‘How’s my dog?’” The date on the calendar? Sept. 6 — the day of Gip’s accident and Foxworthy’s birthday!

The gift of laughter

One night in May of 2005, Scott woke up at 2:00 a.m., unable to go back to sleep. “I had this idea of Jeff Foxworthy doing a benefit for Gip at the Gwinnett Arena. I went about my day and that night Jeff called me to bounce a big idea off of me. I hadn’t spoken to Jeff in two months, but I told Jeff I had a strange feeling I already knew what his idea was. He said I was ‘weirding him out a little’ and then proceeded to share his idea: to do a benefit for Gip at the Gwinnett Arena!” Foxworthy and Scott quickly related the “shared vision” to their wives and they all marveled at the clarity of God’s direction.

Nearly 8,000 people attended the benefit concert, helping the Gayle family with their staggering medical expenses. At the end of his comedy routine, Foxworthy showed a video of “Gip’s journey” since his accident and introduced Gip to the audience. Gip walked on stage to a standing ovation, where he thanked Foxworthy, Scott and his devoted team of prayer warriors. Not surprisingly, the Gayles agree that it was the greatest night of their lives.

The road back

Gip spent nearly a year in and out of hospitals, enduring more than 20 surgeries and procedures. He lost more than 70 pounds and his body shut down several different times, because he was so weak. “Gip was at ‘death’s door’ more times than we care to remember,” Beth Gayle shared. “The days were long, the nights even longer. Gip faced many complications from surgeries with high fevers and infections. The doctors were not giving us much hope at times.”

Through tremendous faith, Gip has rebuilt every aspect of his life. Wanting to follow Scott’s example of helping others, Gip began visiting other patients with brain injuries, encouraging them to have faith and keep fighting. Later, with Scott’s help, Gip served on summer staff (the opportunity for college-age students to volunteer at a Young Life camp for a month) at Windy Gap. He also became a Young Life leader at his old high school, where he had the opportunity to bond with Taylor, who had just entered his freshman year.

Sharing the journey

Feeling lifetimes removed from that day in September, today Gip appreciates what this long journey has meant. “It’s taken five years,” Gip acknowledged, “but I’m finally back in college and living on my own again! I still have challenges to overcome and some days are tough, but I’ve been through tougher times and I know God is still with me every step of the way.”

“Gip continues to amaze his doctors as he meets and beats challenges,” Scott explained. “He really is a medical miracle. Because of the parts of his brain that he lost, he shouldn’t be able to do this or that; but he’s done great. Gip is Gip. He has to work harder than before at some things, but he hasn’t lost one second of his humor, quick wit or his memory; physically, he’s as strong as he ever was.”

So this is what the role of Young Life leader may also encompass: countless hours in a hospital room, establishing a worldwide prayer chain, decorating a family’s home for Christmas, enlisting a world-famous comedian’s help and doing so with a servant’s heart. Beth Gayle is quick to tell you what this has meant to their family, “We cannot imagine our lives without Chuck or Young Life!”