A few weeks ago I had to prepare a short talk on finding sparks of holiness. As I pondered where those sparks may exist in the ordinary moments of life, I thought about the remarkable young people whose stories I’ve shared via this blog. It is in the resilience of children that I find these sparks…sparks that set my soul ablaze with hope for the future.
One such spark is 12-year-old Jake Olson. When Jake was one-year old he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a condition that caused cancerous tumors to develop in both retinas. Jake’s left eye was removed, but with chemotherapy and radiation, doctors were able to save his right eye.
The cancer returned several times, and each time Jake beat it. However, in September 2009, the cancer returned for a ninth time, and this time the prognosis was grim. Jake was to lose his right eye, too. As ESPN’s Shelley Smith* reported, when asked by his mother how he was dealing with this, Jake replied, “This is just going to be a new stage of my life.”
Jake had a wish, however. What he longed to see one last time was a University of Southern California (USC) Trojans game. For Jake, football was his passion. He played center on his school’s football team, and the USC Trojans were his favorite team. His wish reached Trojan head coach, Pete Carroll.
In October, the Trojans invited Jake to practice. He was introduced to his favorite player, center Kris O’Dowd, and a bond was born. O’Dowd commented to Smith that he “felt a connection with him [Jake]…He gave us these words of wisdom. It’s amazing how a seventh-grader can make 100 guys dead quiet and just hear every word that comes out of his mouth….”
The Trojans gave Jake a lifetime of visual memories. “I got to sit next to Pete Carroll on the bus, which was awesome. I got to see them practice, which was awesome,” Jake said. “I got to go into the locker room and everyone was partying. It was just awesome.”
The night before surgery Jake attended a Trojans practice to get a last look at his “new teammates.” Coach Carroll made Jake promise that he would come back after his surgery Nov. 12.
On the day of surgery, the family sneaked O’Dowd into the hospital as “Uncle Kris.” When the nurse came to give Jake his IV, the young boy broke down. O’Dowd gave him a kiss on the head saying, “You’re the strongest kid I’ve ever known and keep being who you are and everything will work out.”
As Jake explained to Smith, “It wasn’t the fear of being blind; it was more like, all right, this is my last minute to see, last hours — that was the fear.”
Six days after the surgery, Jake fulfilled his promise. With the aid of a blind cane, he re-joined the Trojans at practice. Upon learning the team had lost to Stanford a few days earlier, Jake told them not to “feel bad. Guys, you lost, but we’ll get them next year and the year after that and year after that all right!”
View the video report on YouTube.
*Quotation reported in Shelley Smith’s article: USC Trojans’ No. 1 Fan ‘Fights On’ With Help From His Football Friends
Written for KidsTerrain.com. Reprinted with permission.