In a baseball town like ours, America’s pastime is woven throughout the patchwork of our kids’ lives.
For them, baseball is their hero performing the incredible in the bottom of the ninth, the rush of catching a foul ball, the taste of a nacho with the perfect cheese/jalapeno ratio.
But most important, for many children, baseball is a beacon of hope after a life-altering journey.
On June 18, the Mid America Chevy Dealers, which sponsor more than 35 St. Louis area baseball teams and leagues, celebrated the achievements of many of these special kids with the Chevy Youth Baseball Perseverance Award. This award recognizes young players who have overcome adversity and personify the true meaning of team spirit.
One child honored during the ceremony was 9-year-old Luke Schult of Columbia, Ill. In August 2006, the then four-year-old was diagnosed with a tumor on his brain stem. The preschooler underwent two invasive surgeries to correct his condition, including one in which his brain was removed from his skull in order to perform a total resection of the tumor.
The surgery to save his life left Luke with a new set of challenges. Said his mother, Amy, “The neurons that fire from side to side, that work together to control gross motor activities, balance and breath support – they were all destroyed. They had to learn new pathways through the brain, which meant Luke had to learn to walk and talk all over again. He couldn’t even hold his head still – it was like we brought a home a five-year-old infant.”
A hero among us
One thing the tumor did not steal from Luke was his determination. A few weeks after his surgery, he began a regimen of speech, occupational and physical therapy through St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Ranken Jordan.
Over the next few months, the little boy who couldn’t move on his own when leaving the hospital progressed his way from stroller to walker to walking stick. By spring 2007, he began attending an at-risk program through his school district, and in August 2007, started kindergarten right on time with his fellow five-year-olds.
This past year, Luke wanted to get back into the game – literally. He began wrestling competitively through the Waterloo Junior Bulldogs, which Amy called, “absolutely amazing for strengthening his core.” He also participated in Children’s Hospital’s swimming and basketball program for kids with cerebral palsy and joined a soccer league.
One sport Luke had yet to conquer was baseball. Inspired by his older brother’s love of the game, Luke joined a team through Columbia’s Khoury League. Baseball turned out to be the perfect match for Luke’s strong work ethic.
“He just loves it,” explained Amy. “He loves being part of the team and the comradery. He doesn’t want to let the team down if he’s not there. He knows how important it is to show up for practices and games.”
It was this unwavering dedication to his teammates that led the Mid America Chevy Dealers to select Luke as one of the recipients of the 2011 Perseverance Award, an honor not surprising to Luke’s coach, Jack Mueller.
“Luke is amazing,” he said. “After everything he’s gone through, when that kid plays, he gives 100% with a smile on his face. He’s an inspiration to everyone – we love having him on the team. Perseverance is really the best word to describe him.”
For the Schults, the award symbolizes everything Luke has worked so hard for since his diagnosis. Remarked Amy, “We were truly touched by the award. It’s so rewarding to see how far Luke has come in the past five years and to know he’s continuing to progress and move forward. Luke doesn’t know the phrase ‘give up’ or ‘quit.’ Once he gets his mind set on something, he’s determined to follow through.”
This July, Luke will undergo another surgery to remove a second tumor. Although the Schults have no idea what the next few weeks will hold for their son, Luke’s persistence and fighting spirit will no doubt give him the competitive edge over life’s biggest challenges.
By Nicole Plegge, Lifestyle Blogger for SmartParenting