Strong is a common adjective used to describe the 49ers and it is only fitting to also describe Leilani Guitierrez with that same complimentary term. A straight "A" student and Junior National Honor Society member, Leilani lives her life to the fullest, overcoming any obstacles that try to block her way.
At the age of four, Leilani was a passenger in an automobile accident that left her quadriplegic, yet she has refused to let her wheelchair inhibit her life. Determined to visit San Francisco, Leilani and her family began their trip to the Bay Area with a visit to 49ers headquarters. After a tour of the facilities and getting outfitted with a new 49ers beanie, Leilani headed to the field. She and her family watched practice from the sidelines where she and rookie tackle Luke Marquardt shared a heart-warming moment of prayer. At the conclusion of practice, players and coaches gathered around Leilani. Though she came to the facility as a fan, it was obvious she would leave with a fan base of her own.
"It means a lot for her to come out and meet some of the guys," said tight end Vernon Davis. "But I see it as that the privilege was ours."
For the running backs group, this visit was extra special, as Running Back Coach Tom Rathman played a key role in facilitating Leilani's visit with the 49ers.
"It meant a lot for Leilani to visit," said Rathman. "We have some friends in common and it was really meaningful to me to see her on the sidelines."
One of those friends is Richard Hearn. Leilani serves as a board member for Richard's STARCARE Foundation which supports various charitable organizations. For the past 7 years he has witnessed Leilani's desire to give back and impact every life she encounters.
"I have seen her change lives just by coming into a room," said Hearn, "The outpouring of love throughout her visit to the 49ers touched me powerfully and deeply. There was so much good in each moment and so much promise. Leilani wasn't a 'Girl in a chair.' She was an empowered young woman, living a dream and giving her best to the 49ers as well."
Leilani and her family spent Saturday exploring San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf before attending Sunday's preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. Leilani inspired from from the sidelines pregame. Players greeted Leilani enthusiastically, fueled by her strength and support to seal a 49ers victory.
"This has been heartwarming because she doesn't really get to do a lot," explained June Hendriks, Leilani's mother. "Although she goes to high school and goes to all the football games there, it's an entirely different kind of excitement being here at the 49ers. My two young boys play football and it's good for her to get excited and be included in the family sport." Leilani finished the day with a new outlook on football saying, "Seeing all of this in person, you can get into it and now I want to watch every game. I am so inspired and have a new appreciation for my high school team. It's the greatest feeling being out here and watching all of this happen. This is just an awesome experience."