The first thing anyone needs to know about Gunnison Riggins is his courage, which is revealed in a quote on his Facebook page.
"God didn't promise a life without pain, struggles, and hardships," Gunnison posted. "He promised you the strength to get through them."
This 10-year-old surely has the strength of 10 men because if anyone has a right to complain it is Gunnison, who has Neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer that mostly appears in infants and young children. Gunnison was first diagnosed with the disease on June 26, 2012.
He was eight.
"Neuroblastoma is rare and very difficult to get rid of," said Gunnison's mother, Kari Riggins. "They found a large mass on his abdomen and it spread from there. He's been through it all with the chemo and radiation therapy and stem cell transplant. Sometimes, the percentages in beating this don't look good but the Lord is much stronger than any percentages."
Faith, family, and friends help to keep Gunnison going in his fight against cancer. His support system begins with his mother, Kari, and father, Kevin, and his brothers and sisters, Dakota, 24, Granger, 21, Remington, 17, and Stockton, 12.
His extended family includes his school, church, and members of the Shiloh Christian football team. Gunnison is a huge fan of the team and he was made an honorary captain when the Saints hosted First Baptist of Naples, Fla., on Sept. 12.
He's also usually on the sidelines to watch his brother, Stockton, play for the Saints' 7th-grade team.
"He inspires all of us every day," Shiloh Christian coach Jeff Conaway said of Gunnison, who is in the fourth grade at Shiloh. "The way he battles back from adversity and still remains upbeat is something we can all learn from. It tells our players who are healthy not to take this opportunity to play football for granted. Gunnison and his family are loving people who are always willing to help others, and we're so proud of Gunnison in the courage he's shown."
Gunnison was tired from travel and treatments at Fort Worth, Texas and unable to attend Shiloh Christian's victory at Huntsville on Friday. Fort Worth is the location he's been going for the last 1 1/2 years, following two months at the Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, and eight months at a cancer treatment facility in Houston.
"We drive when we can, but thank goodness for frequent flyer miles," Kari said. "That helped a lot when we were going back-and-forth to Houston."
Gunnison has gradually improved and he was excited earlier this year when doctors told him he could play football. Gunnison loves football and his mother said he prayed for two years to get back on the field.
He finally got that opportunity a few weeks ago, but misfortune struck again when Gunnison broke his leg on the first play after he rushed in from his cornerback position to help on a tackle.
He is out of a wheelchair now, but his future in football is on hold. At least for now.
"We were hoping he'd take it easy, but it was his instinct, I guess, to get in the middle of the play and try to make the tackle," Kari said. "We went to supper that night and Gunnison said in his prayer, 'Lord, I know You have a reason for this and I will use it for Your glory.'"
Gunnison's fight has attracted followers previously unknown to him and his family. Branson Hall is a youth football coach in Siloam Springs who became aware of Gunnison's situation last year
"It was a 7-on-7 tournament and the kids from Shiloh Christian showed up wearing bright fluorescent green socks," Hall said. "I asked their coach about it and he said it was for Gunnison."
A year ago this month, Siloam Springs traveled to Shiloh Christian for a game and Hall's team took the field with green fluorescent arm bands in support of Gunnison. Shiloh's varsity team also takes the field with the same colorful wrist bands that say Team Gunnison on them.
"There's a lesson here about a kid whose life revolves around trying to play the game we love," said Hall, who played college football at Central Arkansas. "He's had his ups and downs, but he's kept up the fight. We're all blown away by his toughness and positive attitude."
Football fans won't find Team Gunnison in any of the weekly football rankings. But cancer has no bigger opponent than this team, which is inspired by a brave and very special little boy.
RICK FIRES IS A SPORTSWRITER FOR NWA NEWSPAPERS
Sports on 10/05/2014
Print Headline: Gunnison Inspires All With His Fight Against Cancer