Saturday, April 3, 2010

Colorado Rockies: A Team Of More Than Talent, A Team Of Character

In this day and age, professional athletes are known as much for their arrogance and ego as they are for their abilities to play their sport.

In this day and age, professional athletes are not judged by their character, but rather how many home runs they hit. Sections of stadiums are named after cocky, selfish athletes whose names run across the police blotter as much as the box score.

In this day and age, parents have to explain that its okay to cheer for a player on the field, but ignore what happens off of the field.

In a day and age of arrogance and selfishness, the Colorado Rockies are the antithesis.

Take for instance, Sarah Russell's story. Keep in mind, this is someone who does not live in Denver, and had never attended a game at Coors Field.

In August 2003, I started treatment for my first cancer. I had chronic kidney issues prior to this, which resulted in a kidney transplant in Dec. 2002 - after a transplant, you take anti-rejection medicine to keep your body from rejecting this foreign organ. This medicine, however, caused a lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, in my lung and my prognosis was 5 months of chemotherapy. I celebrated my 16th birthday in the hospital during treatment. The previous year, I had spent my 15th birthday hooked up to a dialysis machine.

During these 5 months, it was baseball season and a longtime family friend was the Team Chaplain for the Rockies and Broncos. The family friend (Bill) knew what I was going through and found out I was in
St. Louis at the same time the Rockies were playing the Cardinals.

One evening, I had a knock at my door and Bill walked in with a dark-haired man. He simply introduced him as "Todd" and I didn't think anymore about it (I didn't know the first thing about the Rockies team) - Todd had brought a dozen roses and for two hours, Bill, Todd, and I sat there and talked about my life back home. Bill and I are from the same small town in southern Illinois - our mascot is the Appleknockers. We explained an Appleknocker to Todd, told him about our Peach Festival we have each fall - told him about my family. Everything but fame, baseball, and anything related. We said goodbye to each other and they went on their way.

The next afternoon, I turned on the ballgame. And whaddya know - the all
star player standing at 1st base was who everyone was ranting about..the guy who had been in my hospital room just the evening before. I was released early on Sunday afternoon and Bill arranged for me to attend the game that day. Afterwards, Bill brought up Todd's game used bat, he had autographed the bat, wishing me all the best. To me, this bat is not a symbol of a celebrity trying to make a big name for himself, he was a truly sincere, genuine friend. For two years, he continued to call Bill to check up on me.

During my senior year, I started experiencing a lot of back pain shortly before graduation. With my history, I was inclined to get it checked out. A tumor was found, wrapped around my spine - a Ewings
sarcoma (a rare cancer where the cancerous cells are found in bone or soft tissue). There was no cause found for this tumor it was unrelated to everything in the past. This cancer was twice as intense, making the prognosis twice as long - 11 months of chemo, six weeks of radiation. Surgery was not even an option because of the location and the large risk of paralysis.

Over the summer of 2006, I was back in the St. Louis hospital and the Rockies were in town at the same time. Bill knew I was there and he brought back my old friend. Along with Todd came
Matt Holliday and Ryan Spilborghs. Just as Todd and I had two years earlier, we all sat there and chatted for a while. I had just graduated high school one month earlier and I had written a song for my graduation. Bill knew I was an avid piano player and he was telling the boys about it. The players insisted that they wanted to hear me play the song I wrote, so with three giant baseball players helping me navigate my IV pole, we got on the elevator to go check out the keyboard that was always kept on the floor below. We got down there and it had been taken away. We were all very disappointed about that. The guys couldn't stay too long after, duty called, so we said our goodbyes. My dad went back home that evening and he'd return on Sunday to pick me up after treatment.

The next day (Saturday afternoon) I was doing some summer school homework when I heard a knock at my door. In walked Matt Holliday, Ryan Spilborghs carrying a huge box. Much to my surprise, inside the box was an electronic keyboard. The guys had taken a taxi to purchase the keyboard then brought it to me so they could hear me play. They set it up for me - they walked out to the nurses station to find batteries for it; With tear-filled eyes, I played them the song I had written for graduation. It was something that they didn't have to do. They had done their duty.

Never once did I view these guys as trying to flaunt their fame or wanting to do things to get them recognized. They are simply people who have huge hearts - with a genuine, sincere passion for doing good for others.

I don't use my story to earn pity votes or sympathy. I have worked on several Relay for Life committees and spoken at many Relay events, working to inspire others about how they can help in the fight against cancer. I do what I do because those guys do what they do. They showed me that people care about other people and have genuine sincerity for others.

It's not about the fame for those guys, it's not about the recognition they do it because that is what is in their hearts.
Its refreshing to have a team that is worth rooting for, a team who cares more about other people than they do about themselves, a team that is grounded and sees the bigger picture.

Sarah Russell is currently the Co-Chair of the Western Illinois University Relay For Life. If you would like more information on her story or how you can get involved in helping to fight for a cure, please visit her website send Sarah an email at

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