Friday, March 16, 2012

OPINION: Max Strength

By Nathan Shoup, Sports Columnist

To the average college student, cancer is something that doesn’t feel real. It is a disease that you hear about on almost a daily basis, but it is nearly impossible to think that the sickness could directly affect you.

Unfortunately, cancer has become all too real for myself and the rest of the Pacific Lutheran baseball team during the past three months after our friend, roommate, classmate and teammate Max Beatty was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

On Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 7p.m., I was sitting in the gym at my old high school watching my little brother’s junior varsity basketball game. Yes, I remember the exact date and time. Being completely honest, it was a night that changed my life. I will never forget it.

My brother’s game was close and there were about three minutes left in the fourth quarter when Max texted me:

“Well I have cancer, this really puts a damper on Christmas.”

Max is one of the funniest, most outgoing people I know so my first thought was either he was trying to pull a cruel joke or someone had taken his phone and sent me the text. So I responded accordingly:

“If you are joking that is NOT funny.”

He wasn’t joking.

It still doesn’t feel real. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that my best friend has cancer. Maybe I simply don’t want to believe it.

For obvious reasons, Max was having a hard time letting people know. So for the first few days, I was the one who sent out phone calls to let our friends and teammates know of Max’s illness. Those phone calls were some of and probably will remain the hardest conversations I was ever forced to have.

Through the experience, I have found it important to realize that there are other people who are going through the same thing. They are all asking the same question: Why is this happening to Max?

In PLU baseball there are 31 individuals who all have a relationship with Max. Some of us are extremely close to Max and others maybe not as close. It is cheesy and cliché but we really are a family.

As a family, we know this: Max is the biggest personality we have on the team. He is loud, he is funny and if you are anywhere in his vicinity you need to be on your guard because you better believe he is somehow going to make people laugh and it could come at your expense.

There certainly was a transition period. As a team, we were forced to get used to the fact that we were going to have to go the season without Max.

His locker is the last one you pass before you walk into the hallway on the way to practice and it is the first locker you pass on the way into the locker room.

I think it is fitting that way.

While some of us are still adjusting to the 2012 baseball season without Max, it is reassuring to see his locker there, completely stocked with practice and game uniforms.

Even though he isn’t at practice with us every day, it is soothing to see his locker full. While cancer is about as scary as life can get, seeing his locker reminds us that Max is going to be back. And that gives us something that is easy to lose track of in a time like this: hope.

If he can’t physically be on the field with us, he is going to be there in our thoughts.

Every member of the PLU baseball team has a yellow bracelet that reads “Max Strength.”

To an outsider, the bracelet would translate to “maximum strength.” But for the 2012 PLU baseball team, it encourages us to attempt to be as strong as our strongest teammate, Max.

While Max continues to fight his battle with cancer, so do we. And while I’m not sure if it will ever feel real that our best friend has cancer, I do know this: Nobody is going to cheer louder than the PLU baseball family once Max wins this fight.

And one other thing: Cancer sucks!