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For Mom, With Love: Ham Honors Mother's Memory for Crucial Catch

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In some ways, the past 12 months have been filled with plenty of wonderful milestone moments for C.J. Ham and his family.

During Minnesota's bye week in 2019, the Vikings fullback treated nearly a dozen family members — including his mother Tina — to a warm-weather getaway on a Florida beach.

Less than two months later, Ham earned his first-career Pro Bowl nod, earning recognition for moving defenders out of the way for Dalvin Cook, who was also a first-time Pro Bowler.

When it was time to go to Orlando, Ham once again brought his family with him, including Tina, who was battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

And in March, the Vikings rewarded Ham — a former undrafted free agent —with a multi-year contract extension. It provided him and his family with financial security, while also highlighting the fullback's importance in Minnesota's offense.

It is those family-oriented memories that Ham holds close to him these days, as Tina Ham passed away in May, ending her battle with the disease at the age of 57.

Vikings running back C.J. Ham surprised his mother with his cleats for "My, Cause, My Cleats."

"Looking back on things now, I've come to find joy from things in this past year that I was able to experience with her," Ham said. "To sign that contract, and for her to see me really live out my dream, it's those moments that I really cherish.

"I just remember how happy she was, the smiles that she had. I know she felt really special to be there [at the Pro Bowl] with me," Ham continued. "Although it's sad [my mother passed], you have to find joy in the memories and find joy in the good times.

"Sometimes you feel like the hard times, especially once they are gone, come up to the surface a little more," Ham added. "But as time goes on, you start to cherish and remember the joyful moments, and the smiles and the laughs. Those are the things I try to focus on the most."

October is Crucial Catch month around the NFL, as the league places a heavy importance on fighting all types of cancer through early detection and risk reduction.

The Vikings Crucial Catch home game this year is against the Falcons. Although fans will not be in attendance, the game will give the organization a spotlight to honor cancer survivors and those currently battling cancer, as well as those who have passed on.

Week 6 will be the third Crucial Catch game the Vikings will be involved in, as road opponents Houston and Seattle also celebrated the cause earlier this month.

"Even in Houston, when we first got there and are walking on the field, you see the Crucial Catch logo," Ham said. "It brought back memories to last year, having my mom come to the Crucial Catch game and wearing my cleats. It just brought up so many memories from a year ago and what she was going through at that time, but how she was also still supporting me.

"It's always been important in the sense that cancer is a disease that a lot of people have to deal with and is a very serious thing." Ham added. "But when my mom was diagnosed, it became even more important to me … when it happens to you, it means a little bit more. These past couple years, and especially now, this month has been a very special month for my family."

Tina was initially diagnosed in March 2018 with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer, but surgery later revealed that it actually was Stage 4.

Even as she battled the disease, Tina kept her family close. But if her love for Ham and his sister, Markeeta, was special, she took it to another level when it came to her six grandchildren.

Ham smiles warmly at the thought of having Tina experience once-in-a-lifetime moments with Ham's daughters, Skylar and Stella, on their first trip to Disney World in Orlando.

"My mom really showed me how to love," Ham said. "To look at something bigger than yourself and love unconditionally.

"Seeing how she loved me and my father and my sister, but specifically, how she loved my children," Ham added. "She loved them unconditionally and they really meant the world to her, as did her grandchildren from my sister, as well. She really loved them, and that makes me want to be a better person. She taught me to love everybody, and to do with your full heart."

Ham wore custom shoes in Minnesota's 2019 Crucial Catch game and plans to do so again Sunday. But he has also added two special accessories to his wardrobe to honor his mother.

Ham's wife, Stephanie, gifted him a custom necklace with Tina's face on it in for his 27th birthday in July. And last month, she presented him with a denim jacket with a painting of Tina on the back.

The necklace, Ham said, holds his mom close to his heart. And the jacket is a symbol of him wrapped in her love.

"That's really my wife being awesome," Ham said. "Soon after my mother passed, she got me the necklace with my mother's picture. Then she surprised me with the jacket.

"It was a gift from her, and it turned out unbelievable … even better than I could have ever imagined," Ham added. "When I first saw that jacket and was able to put in on, it was emotional. It's just very special to me."

There is nothing that equates to a mother's love. Sometimes it is tender and caring, and other times it is pointed and guiding. But behind every conversation, inside joke or life lesson, there is always love.

As Ham honors his mother at Sunday's game, in October and for all the days to come, he will hold a son's love for his mother near and dear, just like those precious family memories that he now remembers with a smile.

"She was the rock of our family," Ham said. "She's gone, but she's definitely not forgotten, and will always be in our hearts."

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