UPDATE: Ryan Kennedy passed away on his own terms on May 26th, just two days after his 10th birthday, The Oakland Press reports.
On May 24, a boy named Ryan Kennedy turned 10.
And probably countless of other boys and girls turned 10, or 40 or even 100.
But the double digits that May 24 brought to Kennedy mean more to him and his family than perhaps most birthdays do, because this boy has brain cancer.
Doctors didn’t know whether he would actually make it to his birthday, but he has, and among those celebrating are not only his friends and family but also the Oakland University baseball team.
In October 2010, the OU baseball team was asked if they would consider adopting a child from the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, an organization that pairs children suffering from pediatric brain tumors with athletic teams around the country.
After thinking it over and discussing the implications of the program, they decided to ask Kennedy to join their team.
“We all kind of knew the risk of going in this far and getting this close to him,” said Dan Gliot, athletic communications assistant and graduate of the 2011 team. “But he’s helped me and this baseball team probably more than we’ve helped him.”
Each game, Kennedy gave the team a common cause to keep playing: they played for Ryan Kennedy.
Gliot recalls seeing Kennedy, an initially shy boy, “come out of his shell” over the course of his time with the team.
Jake Arendsen, fellow 2011 graduate, remembers the day when Kennedy pitched the first ball at a University of Dayton game. Kennedy, a little nervous, had asked Arendsen to accompany him on the field.
“If I would have stopped walking, he would have stopped with me,” Arendsen said. But with a steady hand on his back, Kennedy courageously “squared up to the catcher” and threw a strike.
And his courage continued to shine through.
“I think about a 9-year-old boy that has to go through chemotherapy, surgery and this and that … the level of his character is above ours because of the situation he’s been in,” said Tom Jablonski, another one of the 2011 team’s core Senior players.
Gliot said Kennedy recently decided to “square up” to his sickness and to forego his painful treatments, and by doing so, he chose to enjoy his life.
Arendsen said Kennedy’s attitude towards life is spreading to the rest of the team.
“Ryan enjoys life so much that his smile, his passion is just contagious,” Arendsen said. “I learned to have that perspective in life, no matter what is happening in your life, be contagious with your positive attitude.”
Arendsen, Gliot and Jablonski aren’t the only ones to walk away forever changed by this 10-year-old.
“Ryan Kennedy is impacting the Oakland University Baseball team … and ultimately the world,” Arendsen said.
According to the National Institutes of Health report on the annual funding for various research, condition and disease categories, brain cancer received two-fifths the amount of funding breast cancer did in 2011.
Gliot said he hopes along with the Kennedy’s that the media coverage has raised awareness of the need for more support specifically of brain cancer research. He said the amount of support he has seen in the past few days has been remarkable.
“I know it means so much to him,” Gliot said. “And it is equally meaningful to his family. (The Kennedy’s) know God has a plan for them and for Ryan.”
Jablonski said his legacy will be remembered by many.
“The tough thing is, (Ryan) doesn’t know this, but he’s probably affected more people’s lives than I will or anybody else will, just by fighting to survive,” he said.