Because the last installation of this newsletter was so downtrodden, I decided to go in a different direction for today, and turn to an inspiration story that has come out of the Commodore football program over the past year and a half. Cody Markel, former Vanderbilt tight end, was the recipient of the SEC’s Brad Davis Community Service Leader award for 2020, an honor that is beyond well deserved. The work that his foundation, Turner’s Heroes, is doing, and how he has turned a tragedy into something truly positive is even more noteworthy than anything that happens on the field.

Turner’s Heroes is a non-profit foundation that aids in supporting pediatric cancer patients across the country through discovery grants and endowment funds, and puts on superhero-themed events at children’s hospitals. The foundation was created to honor Turner Cockrell, former Vanderbilt football player and Cody’s roommate while the two played together on campus. In 2017, Turner’s sophomore year, doctors discovered cancerous lumps growing on Turner’s neck, which turned out to be stage 3 melanomas. After surgery to remove the lumps, Cockrell underwent intensive radiation therapy during the spring semester, but never backed down from the fight, rarely missing a class and never living without a smile on his face. Despite the treatment, in July of that year it was revealed through testing that the cancer had spread to his lungs. Although his health began to deteriorate, Turner never stopped being himself – laughing with his friends, smiling in the face of death, and living life to its fullest. Turner passed in late November of 2018, less than a week after the end of the Commodores’ football season.

In an interview with Cody this week, I asked him what inspired him to start the foundation. In his words, “We spent the day with his family, the day after he had passed. That honestly motivated me to do something in honor of him, because our whole conversation was about how positive he was. We were just telling jokes, telling stories, just laughing and having a great time even though something incredibly sad had happened.” Since that inspiration, Cody created Turner’s Heroes to help pediatric cancer patients and their families overcome the adversaries associated with the disease and treatments. They sponsor and run cape designing events at children’s hospitals across the country where patients and their families are joined by community heroes to create superhero costumes for the patients. Turner’s Heroes also funds pediatric cancer research, and has raised nearly $100,000 to date. 

Cody himself is a remarkable young man. His generosity is matched only by his humility, as he is never one to toot his own horn or be self-congratulatory. That makes supporting this cause all the more important. If you are able to, please visit and donate. Your money will be helping those who need it most, and help keep the memory of another remarkable person, Turner Cockrell, alive for years and years to come.

Matt Perkins is the producer and host of the Bleav in Vanderbilt Football Podcast and the Illegal Motion College Football Podcast. He is an audio engineer and filmmaking instructor based in Nashville, TN. You can find the shows here:

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