Student brings ‘Zaching’ message of hope to MU

The “Zaching” photo will take place at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Tiger Plaza.
Freshman Zack Newman holds the "Zaching pose" April 8, 2014, at Carnahan Quadrangle. Newman organized a mass "Zaching Against Cancer" photo to take place 1 p.m. Wednesday at Tiger Plaza.

Being drugged up on painkillers is difficult enough. Being drugged up on painkillers, after undergoing surgery for brain cancer for the second time, is even worse.

But Zach Lederer wasn’t going to let that get him down.

His family and friends were worried about him. So he asked his father to take a picture of him to show everyone he was doing OK.

Flexing his arms in a show of strength, Lederer stared at the camera, defiantly demonstrating that he would not let cancer get the best of him. He was OK.

Whether on the road to recovery, or running around managing the University of Maryland’s basketball team, Lederer always kept his sense of optimism.

“I’m just living the dream,” he would say, without any hints of sarcasm.

He meant it, Lederer’s friend and MU freshman Zack Newman recalls. He was eternally optimistic.

And maybe that’s part of the reason why the flexing pose, termed “Zaching,” went viral. The symbol of hope carries on, even after Lederer died at age 20 on March 12.

MU goes ‘Zaching’

Newman usually talks with his hands.

His words as fluid as his motions, he gestures as he makes points during conversation. His arms move from side to side as he moves from from topic to topic.

One topic is the tattoo that marks his right arm.

His hand-talking causes his sleeve to shift, just so, revealing a picture of a small, flexed bicep that is fittingly on Newman’s own bicep.

The letters next to it, inked in flowing script, are also ingrained in his mind.

“LTD,” Newman reads. “Living the Dream.’”

Newman speaks of wanting to bring this message of optimism and hope to MU. He wants MU to show its support and be one of the groups with a “Zaching” picture on the official Tumblr website.

Newman approached Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin with the idea at a basketball game in March. Lederer died shortly after, and this gave Newman even more determination to make the event happen.

And it will.

On Wednesday, MU will take its own school-wide “Zaching” picture at 1 p.m. at Tiger Plaza, which was formally reserved with the backing of Missouri Students Association President Mason Schara.

“MSA took interest in it because one of our students came needing help and guidance,” Schara said. “And that's our job — to help all of our students.”

Working with Newman, Schara has also been extensively promoting the event through the network of student leaders. It is now featured on StufftoDo and Facebook.

The event will feature students wearing red and flexing their arms — muscles not required — to be a light to cancer patients.

The campus will join a line of past “Zaching” posers, including Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, Mike Wilbon and Jay Leno. They also flexed their arms to encourage resilient cancer patients.

Lederer Legacy

Lederer’s cousins were the first to copy the pose.

His sister, Julia Lederer, remembers the duo declaring, “Tebowing is out, Zaching is in,” at the time — prophetically hinting that soon enough, other people would be joining in.

In light of the “Zaching” recognition, Lederer’s Maryland high school football coach and teacher together established the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation to fund scholarships for those who have overcome adversity as a cancer survivor or caregiver.

But Newman doesn’t just know Lederer, his former high school classmate, as a crusader for hope in the face of cancer, which is an image with which many have come to associate him.

Newman, who is studying sports broadcast journalism, attributes much of his reporting skill to Lederer’s help.

A basketball reporter during his freshman year of high school, Newman said he was completely lost when he began his job. At the time, Lederer used his role as basketball team manager to be a kind and helpful mentor, sitting next to Newman during away games and making him feel included with the team.

“Zach saw that I was struggling and took me under his wing,” Newman said. “(He) showed me the ropes, who to talk to, different stats to pay attention to. He would just check in with me, but he didn’t have to do that. That wasn’t in his job description. He was just being the person he was.”

Even after Lederer went to the University of Maryland to study journalism himself, Newman said he continued to be an inspiration.

“If you were ever to ask him how he was doing, he was the most positive guy,” Newman said. “Even if things weren’t necessarily good, … he always wanted to know about you. It’s the little things like that that show how positive a person he was.”

Julia Lederer can see the impact her brother made on everyone he met.

“It’s overwhelming and so unbelievably incredible, that he can touch that many people in 20 years,” she said. “It’s just crazy, and it’s a true blessing to be a part of his life.”

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