Zachary M. 'Zach' Lederer, inspiration to cancer patients, dies at 20

Zach Lederer  in 2012.

Zachary M. "Zach" Lederer's personal struggle and determination to survive brain cancer gave hope and inspiration to people across the world. The University of Maryland, College Park student and manager of the men's basketball team became known for "Zaching" — a muscle pose he made when he was recuperating after surgery.

Mr. Lederer died Tuesday of the disease at his parents' Ellicott City home. He was 20.


"We had a great bond. … It really hurt me seeing him hurt so bad," said Maryland basketball player Nick Faust, who was a freshman when Mr. Lederer started as the team manager. "He had so much pride and so much passion, he really kept the team going and gave us a lot of drive. He never gave up. He was a fighter. He showed through any situation, you've got to push through."

All of the Maryland players attended a vigil late Tuesday night for Mr. Lederer outside the Comcast Center.


Player Dez Wells said that he was momentarily surprised to see as many as 300 people in front of the basketball arena but then thought about whom they were there to honor.

"Knowing Zach, it didn't surprise me," he said. "He impacted a lot of people's lives. ... Knowing Zach, he doesn't want us to mourn his death, he wants us to celebrate his life."

Dr. Benjamin Carson, a retired Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatric neurosurgeon who treated Mr. Lederer when he was a child, said he was "an amazing young man. He had the 'no quit' spirit in him.

"His signature fist-pumping gave hope not only to those in medical situations, but also to those in life who had other problems. They had to think, 'If he can do it, I can.' He was so encouraging to them," said Dr. Carson. "Zach had courage and was absolutely fearless as he went through all of the treatments. He was able to put it out of his mind and go forward."

"He's a hero to me. He was the kind of kid who was both brave and courageous," said former Centennial High School football coach Ken Senisi, who worked with Mr. Lederer when he was the team's manager during his freshman, sophomore and junior years.

"He was a remarkable young man and so unselfish. The last thing he ever wanted was attention or praise," said Mr. Senisi, who is now Centennial's lacrosse coach.

Maryland basketball coach Mark Turgeon recalled Mr. Lederer as a fighter. "Our guys are well aware of what Zach meant to us," he said. "Hopefully, he'll be an inspiration for us because while he was alive he was always an inspiration."

The son of John D. Lederer, vice president of Frosty Refrigeration Co., and Christine A. Lederer, an accountant, Zachary Monnett Lederer was born in Baltimore and raised at his family's Frederick Road home in Ellicott City.


Mr. Lederer was 11 when he was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, and his family was told that his survival was unlikely. He endured numerous procedures and surgeries, including the placement of a shunt to reduce swelling. After he was put in a medically induced coma, there was the possibility that he would not awaken.

"After Zach came out of the coma, he could do absolutely nothing but blink. Zach had physical therapists, occupational therapists and cognitive therapists," his mother told The Baltimore Sun in a 2010 interview. "He had some trouble with memory, and he had to learn to write again."

"We radiated the tumor and it completely melted away," said Dr. Carson. "We kept in touch through the years, and Zach has the most wonderful and supportive family, which made a great difference in his prognosis."

"Zach ate and breathed sports," his mother said in an interview Wednesday. "He loved school, was successful academically and in the National Honor Society. He loved doing service and worked on the Special Olympics. He tutored kids at high school."

When Mr. Lederer, who was 17 at the time and managing Centennial's football team, asked to play football his senior year, his parents were alarmed. They once again turned to Dr. Carson, who had strong advice for him.

"I told him it's probably not the world's best idea, and I certainly don't recommend it for anybody, whether they had a shunt or tumor or not," Dr. Carson explained in the 2010 Sun article. "But at the same time, if it's something that's so important to you that your life is going to be miserable without it, by all means do it, but make sure you wear all the protective equipment and be careful."


During his senior year, Mr. Lederer suited up for every game and played in three as a member of the special teams unit.

In addition to the football team, he managed the basketball team at Centennial for three years.

"It is clearly evident in the response to his passing that he was a truly unselfish and giving person who committed his energy to the kids, programs and the school. He took tremendous pride in our school and never stopped demanding that from others," said Chad Hollwedel, who coaches Centennial's varsity basketball team.

"As a manager, Zach brought that enthusiasm for life — having had cancer in middle school, he had a great appreciation for life every day — to his work," said Mr. Hollwedel. "Having him around was like having another coach on the staff. He took matters into his own hands, and you never had to ask if something was done."

After graduating from Centennial in 2011, he enrolled at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he was studying broadcast journalism and managed the men's basketball team. He had to withdraw from the university in 2012 during his freshman year, when the cancer he had beaten years earlier returned and he faced a second round of surgery.

"He reached out to kids who were cancer patients and encouraged them," his mother said.


He returned to College Park as a part-time student until withdrawing last year because of his illness.

Mr. Lederer was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City.

"He always enjoyed going to Mass and spoke to youth groups at the church about overcoming adversity," his mother said.

"Zach loved life from the time he was a little kid. He gained strength through his struggle with cancer and used to say, 'I'm living the dream,' and he talked frequently about what it was like to be alive," said his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth "Liz" Bobo, a former Howard County executive who is now serving in the House of Delegates.

"And when the cancer came back, he used the opportunity to help other kids with their battle with cancer," said Delegate Bobo, who lives in Columbia. "He lived his life with dignity and was an inspiration until the very end."

"We feel very fortunate that we got another 10 years from the original diagnosis. We feel very blessed," said his mother. "He was the most positive person I've ever known, about everything, not just his illness. He had lots of friends, and his family and friends were very important to him. People naturally gravitated to him."


"Zach was put here for a reason, and that was to help others get through things," said Mr. Senisi.

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The Zaching Against Cancer Foundation was founded in honor of Mr. Lederer, who played a major role in the foundation.

"And through the foundation, Zach's spirit will carry on," said Mr. Senisi.

Mr. Lederer enjoyed hiking the Appalachian Trail with his father and sailing with his family, his mother said.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 3 p.m. March 21 at his church, 3155 Paulskirk Drive, Ellicott City.

In addition to his mother and maternal grandmother, Mr. Lederer is survived by his father; a sister, Julia A. Lederer, 18, a freshman at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg; his paternal grandmother, Sally Lederer of Kent Island; his maternal grandfather, Clifford Bobo of Ellicott City; his maternal step-grandmother, Linda Bobo of Ellicott City; his maternal step-grandfather, Lloyd Knowles of Columbia; and many cousins.


Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this article.