Joe Kalafat and his older brother Jim grew up in Great Falls as part of a competitive family. They starred on the gridiron for head coach Jack Johnson at CMR High School. There was a lot of competition and rivalry but an equal amount of love.
But in college they faced a crossroads. Jim was a record-breaking linebacker for Montana State who still holds the single season mark for tackles in a season. Joe was a starting nose tackle for the University of Montana from 1987-89.
“We're a divided family when Cat-Griz comes around,” Jim said. “We got the the Cats on one side and you've got the Griz on the other. There’s that rivalry, but at the end of the day we all love each other.”
After college, they took divergent paths as well. Jim had a stint in the NFL before starring as “Laser” on American Gladiators while Joe embarked on a very successful career in the business world, running freight, trucking, and logistics companies.
But the love never faded and the Kalafat family is asking both sides of the Cat-Griz rivalry to come together after Joe suffered a scary accident in mid-October.
While cleaning his gutters on a ladder, Joe slipped off his roof and fell to the ground below. He suffered a severe concussion, several broken ribs, fractured spinal processes, and a nearly-severed tongue.
“He was unconscious when his neighbors found him and rushed him to the hospital,” Jim said. “The injuries were horrific. He has a long recovery ahead of him, and they’re worried about his cognitive functioning.”
The injury is compounded by the fact that Joe was between jobs at the time and was without health inusrance. Medical bills began to pile up. Though Joe would never ask for help, his family was worried that the financial burdens of recovery would take away from the important work of healing.
Jim and the Kalafat family created a GoFundMe account, and the response has been overwhelming. In just over a week, the account had raised more than $46,000 toward a $125k goal.
“There’s people from all over the world donating and it touches our family every day,” Jim said. “We’re doing conference calls with each other and it’s refreshing to see the human side. Sometimes we lose sight of that a little bit in life. But then every once in a while you see people stepping up to the plate and the outpouring of well wishes. It’s touching. And it reminds you that people are still good.”
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