Note: This feature appears in the April issue of Centerville-Washington Neighbors Magazine.
By Jeff Louderback
Michael Digiorgio is incorporating his passion for Corvettes into generating awareness and raising funds for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). It’s especially relevant, since cancer and Corvettes have illustrated the 26-year-old Centerville resident’s life story.
Like every person who has battled any form of cancer, Michael remembers when he was diagnosed with the life-altering disease.
“I went to high school at Archbishop Alter in Kettering, where I lettered in football and was an average student. During a summer weightlifting session before my freshman year of high school, a teammate noticed a large lump on the right side of my neck,” Michael recalled. “Weeks later, a biopsy revealed this lump to be cancerous: Burkitt’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“I spent several months receiving and recovering from chemotherapy treatment, which came with nasty side effects, such as mouth sores and hair loss. I also put on a significant amount of weight during this period—and got so out of shape that climbing a flight of stairs would make me lightheaded,” he added. “Fortunately the Alter community—especially my football teammates and coaches—rallied around me, to make my fight with cancer more manageable.”
Since the end of his treatments in November 2008, Michael has not experienced a major relapse with his health or residual side effects from the chemotherapy. He returned to playing football at Alter and became a gym rat in college. He became immersed in powerlifting and pushed his body to complete a half marathon during his sophomore year.
The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization founded in 1949, is an organization that is close to Michael’s heart. LLS is the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to fighting blood cancer in the world. LLS’s mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.
Michael’s love for Corvettes predates his fight with cancer.
“Since as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved cars, and especially Corvettes. In the same way that many fathers and sons connect through sports, my dad and I shared a passion for everything with four wheels,” Michael said. “As a young boy, my dad became enamored with Corvettes, after the son of a local doctor took him for a rather spirited ride in his father’s 1967 Marina Blue 427 Stingray.
“My dad owned a number of ’Vettes in his lifetime (many of them big-block 427s) and became involved in the National Corvette Restorers Society. I caught the ‘Corvette Fever’ at a very early age, riding shotgun in a number of my dad’s cars to school, baseball games and cruise-ins,” he added. “My dad encouraged my enthusiasm by taking me to a number of car shows across the country. We shared an especially close bond. I’m extremely lucky to have had a father who loved me so much and shared so many of my same interests.”
After high school Michael earned a degree in mechanical engineering from The Ohio State University in 2017. Unfortunately his father did not see him graduate. Mr. Digiorgio died from complications of a blood clot believed to be related to an accident in which he fell off a ladder and became paralyzed from the waist down.
“I learned the hardest way possible that day about how fragile life is—and how permanent its consequences can be,” Michael said. “The years immediately following my dad’s passing had a profound impact on my life, made me ponder the meaning I gave to my own existence and changed the things that I valued. I will always be haunted, and reminded, by my father’s confessions of regret in his hospital bed: not of the things he’d done in life and wished he hadn’t, but of the things he’d put off because he took tomorrow for granted.
“I knew then that I’d no longer be satisfied with a life of compromises and vowed to start working toward the things that brought me the most happiness and fulfillment,” Michael added.
The summer after his father died, Michael was offered an engineering internship at BWI Group, which made the MagneRide dampers used in Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Corvettes. He later earned a full-time position there and was assigned a support role in the passive damper project for the highly anticipated mid-engine Corvette C8.
Fueled by his zest for life after his father’s death, Michael desired to find a platform that could bring people together and rally them behind good causes.
“After watching the Corvette C8’s official reveal in July 2019, a crazy idea popped into my head. What if I could use a hype machine of a car to grow a following and make a difference in the world?” Michael said. “I brainstormed about the causes I could benefit and quickly put a reservation deposit down on a 2020 C8.The organization that believed in my vision the most was LLS—specifically Cris Peterson, the area director for Dayton LLS.”
Michael told Cris about the ways he could use the car to help promote and fundraise for LLS, and how the ’Vette could help create a natural bridge between LLS and car enthusiasts. She told him about LLS’s “Random Acts of Light” program, which would give Michael the opportunity to “make the days” of cancer patients with the car.
“I started a Facebook and YouTube fundraising campaign, with the announcement that I’d be buying the new Corvette and a plan of how I’d use the ’Vette to help LLS and other charities. Within two months the campaign had raised $6,000 in donations toward cancer research and patient support,” Michael explained. “This led to the idea of starting an event centered around cars that would benefit LLS, which will take place this coming summer.”
Outside of the yet-to-be-announced event, Michael will tour with the ’Vette to car shows across the country, both to promote his YouTube channel (which will feature a number of videos benefiting charity) and to fundraise directly for LLS, amongst other foundations. The journey can be followed on YouTube (enter Youtube/degsDIY in Google) or Instagram (@degsdiy).
“Activity will ramp up significantly after my car is delivered sometime in May,” he said. “The car will be Sebring Orange with black interior and will sport a 490 HP V8, which will propel it from 0 to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds.”
This Corvette project fulfills Michael’s goal to make a positive impact, and his father is ever-present in his mind.
“Our seconds, minutes and hours here on earth are precious and limited, and the time we have to work toward accomplishing our ultimate goals is right now,” Michael said. “This new chapter with the Corvette will create awareness of and raise money for causes that are important; and it will also keep my father’s memory vivid, by continuing the bond that we shared.”