Wednesday, September 28, 2011

September 28, 2011
John Walls with his mother
In July of 2004, just two months in to his battle with leukemia, John Walls had already begun to show just how much difference one person can make.

While John was undergoing intense chemotherapy in an attempt to rid his body of cancerous bone marrow, he had received some particularly painful news; none of his family were marrow matches. Realizing just how difficult a bone marrow transplant was without donors, John and his family organized a bone marrow donor drive in Wilsonville.

These drives are critically important to young people, like John, searching for a bone marrow match that might save their lives. Donating bone marrow is not as simple as donating blood. The procedure is considerably more difficult to the donor. As each of us strolls through our lives focused on so many things we feel important, we walk by people every day that may someday need our help. We just do not know it yet.

You will hear people talk around football teams about overcoming adversity. There is merit on the football field, or any place where competition occurs, to teaching life lessons to athletes competing in sports. The young men we cheer for on Saturdays learn how to persevere through pain; through disappointment; through adversity. They learn this through athletics.

Though the lessons are very important, they are meaningless without practical application. John Walls had spent his life around athletics and had learned incredible integrity. The one thing we all take for granted, though, is what role adversity might play elsewhere. While we are focused on our own problems and how to solve our daily travails, we are failing. No matter how well we seem to solve our own difficult circumstances, we are missing out.

On July 13, 2004,even as he was waging war against a body rebelling against him, John's family had a bone marrow donor registry drive organized in Wilsonville. Over 100 people showed up that day to add their name to the registry as marrow donors. Considering the size of Wilsonville, this was an incredible number. We will never know how many people those 100+ donors may have helped, but we do know that without John's presence, this would not have happened.

When I write to John the next day, here is what I told him:

John, keep up your amazing strength and spirit. It's what
you have inside your heart and mind that determine where you
will go... for over 100 people to show up in your honor
yesterday just shows how strong your presence in Wilsonville
is... there is so much support and love here...

Muhammed Ali was the guest of honor at the All Star game
last night and it reminded me of something he once said
about what makes a champion...

Champions are made from something they have deep inside
them-a desire, a dream, a vision.

John, you ARE a champion so keep that dream; that vision
that you have deep inside yourself... never lose the focus
on what your goal is... to kick AML's butt... you can do it
with the heart of a champion and the courage of a gladiator
you can come out on top... always, always BELIEVE

Just a couple of weeks later, as fall football camp opened up for Wilsonville High School, John was really starting to hurt; he was missing his first football season. Not yet 15 years old and a sport he had loved for so long was taken away from him; he was handling it as best he could, but he still wanted to play.

I communicated frequently with John through his website. AS he was feeling the pain of missing football for the first time, I tried my best to offer some solace in his battle.

There may be no glory in the battle itself, but there WILL
be glory in the victory. I know your mom talks about how
wonderful this community's the reason many of us
moved here and the reason we all stay.

There are so many people that make this community the palce
it is and without them, we would all be in trouble. John,
just remember that to win the tough games, you have to keep
battling. When the legs get tired and your focus starts to
wane, that's the time to bear down and re-energize your
focus onto your goal. Right now the goal is kicking AML's
butt to the curb.

Trust in your dreams and make them your goals.

As always LiveStrong and STAY Strong!

Live Strong and Stay strong

Three days after this, John went into remission. We were all in shock, had he beaten leukemia in just three months? That is a difficult question to answer in the moment. With all of our hearts, we all wanted to believe that the battle was over; John had won. But reality has a way of slapping you in the face if you become too complacent. Remission is not victory, there was still a LONG fight ahead for John and the rest of his family.

John Walls just before completing chemo, 2004
Even in remission, the doctors knew that a treatment plan must be carried out in full. John continued with chemotherapy through that football season. In November of 2004, in remission, John Walls completed his last round of chemotherapy. The team was less than two weeks away from their first state championship in football; and John had been the teams spirit the entire season. He was just as much a part of that championship team as every other player.

John began to see a return to normalcy, and he was excited.

It is trivial, in most cases, to compare anything like a game to real life. John was facing real struggles. Yet, we must keep in mind that even on the field, the lessons that can be taken away are critical. One of the most amazing aspects of John's battle with leukemia was the incredible community support John and his family received.

It seems that the only time people band together is in the face of tragedy or in times of accomplishment. What can be learned from both instances might be how important a social community still is to our existence. In The Aesthetic Beauty of Football and Social Capital and Football I addressed this concept. John's story shows how the concept becomes reality; one person, one community at a time. I also wrote about Strength Coach Jim Radcliffe in a piece called Strength In All the Right Places

Though those articles were specific to football, there was, hopefully, a life lesson; one of great importance. John's story, though far from over, brings those three concepts together. John's story shows how the beauty of sport and social nature of our existence can combine to create a better existence. But without strength in the right place, it is all meaningless.

The beginning paragraph of David Calmers' "The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory:" states:

Conscious experience is at once the most familiar thing in the world and the most mysterious. There is nothing we know about more directly than consciousness, but it is far from clear how to reconcile it with everything else we know. Why does it exist? What does it do? How could it possibly arise from lumpy gray matter? We know consciousness far more intimately than we know the rest of the world, but we understand the rest of the world far better than we understand consciousness.

What is it about John Walls that made the difference in so many lives? Simple: he had strength in the right place. We applaud strength and speed on the field. But strength of character, integrity and strength of mind are the strengths that make a difference int he world. At only 14 years old, John Walls displayed a strength of character, integrity and mind that many adults lack.

Let us learn from John. With every cheer, remember John's courage. With every bad moment, remember John's battle. As we leave the stadium, remember John's strength. John Walls knew what he was facing and yet he fought with every fiber of his being. He did not let his mind take over; he was able to control his consciousness with a singular determination to beat leukemia.

Every day, I am reminded of this battle. I wear a Livestrong bracelet that has been on my right wrist since May 2004. Each time I look down, I am reminded of John's strength and courage. Nothing can take that away.

At the end of every note I wrote to John, I ended with Live strong and STAY strong. That has a practical application to our lives and our fan-ship. Stay strong in your integrity.

Next up: A Return to Normalcy


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