John Challis is an 18 year old that is facing death, but has become an inspiration to his school, his teammates, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Steelers, and all of Pittsburgh! I’m sure his story has now reached way beyond here by now. I know EVERY single time I see him on TV or read about him I am moved, inspired, and brought to tears. Last night as we watched the Pirates vs Yankees on TV we saw the story of John in the locker rooms of both teams inspiring the players and the managers and everyone he came in contact with. We saw the umpires shaking his hand. We saw him in the broadcast booth for quite some time talking to Steve Blass and Greg Brown and not a word came out of his mouth that you didn’t sit back and say WOW. Below are two stories about him but before you read those, I want to share with you the words that I hear him say over and over that are probably the most inspiring words I have ever heard:
JOHN CHALLIS: “I used to be afraid, but I’m not afraid of dying now, if that’s what you want to know,” he said. “Because life ain’t about how many breaths you take. It’s what you do with those breaths.”
Here are two articles about John. The first one was written about the Pirates game last night and the other one was written earlier this year. Both articles are full of wisdom from a young man who is teaching many of us a lot of things. THANK YOU, JOHN.
Bucs inspired by 18-year-old with terminal cancer
The Pirates didn’t even care that John Challis, a former high school athlete with terminal cancer, most wanted to meet Yankees star Derek Jeter, which he did during batting practice.
The Pirates gave Challis the run of the clubhouse. He sat in John Russell’s chair during the manager’s daily news conference, gave a motivational talk to the players, visited the Yankees clubhouse and watched batting practice.
Challis also tossed out the ceremonial first pitch – a day after Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski did so – and took out the Pirates’ lineup card to home plate during the pregame umpires meeting.
It was a big day for a 5-foot-5, 93-pounder who learned two years ago this week he had cancer, which has since spread to his lungs, liver and pelvis, and is expected to take his life soon.
“Everybody else complains about it, I guess, but it’s not just me getting through this, it’s the people around me who have helped me get through certain things like days like this,” Challis said. “It’s a stepping stone I can look back on and say, ‘Well, I did it.’ Things like this help keep me going.”
Challis played high school football at Freedom Area High School in Beaver County before developing cancer, starting on the junior varsity offense and defense as a sophomore. He remained in high school after becoming sick and, after saying he wished he could play in one more game, Challis kicked off and played wide receiver for several plays against Hickory last season.
A former Pony League player, he also got his wish to bat in a high school baseball game. During an April 11 game against Aliquippa, he entered as a pinch-hitter and lined a single into right field in one of his two at-bats this spring.
Upon reaching first base – a difficult accomplishment given how hard it is for him to run – he found his first-base coach crying and the opposing Aliquippa players saluting him with applause. Some Aliquippa players wore Challis’ initials and his No. 11 on their caps the rest of the season.
“If we can have half the courage and faith John has, we’d all be better off,” Russell said. “It’s a great story and we’ve been following it and we couldn’t wait for John to get here. The courage he shows, the unselfishness that’s a part of his life, it’s a great message for all of us.”
Challis recently set up a foundation designed to help high school students with terminal illnesses. The Tampa Bay Rays have pledged to help by supplying game tickets and transportation.
Challis is surprised only because so many people are stunned at everything he’s done despite being so ill. He said days such as Wednesday badly tired him.
“I’m little surprised that people don’t understand how easy I think it is for a young person, especially myself, to see this major situation as a positive – I mean I don’t see it as a positive, but I’m not complaining about it,” Challis said. “I don’t know why people think it’s so hard.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins recognized Challis at one of their playoff games, where he met co-owner Mario Lemieux, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz and Steelers owner Dan Rooney.
Challis also went on a cruise after attending his senior prom and graduating from high school, with a snorkeling trip one of the highlights. Asked about the cruise, Challis laughed and said, “That’s a press conference in itself.”
And that motivational message he wrote on the Pirates’ bulletin board?
“Have fun,” he wrote, signing his name below his message. “It’s the reason we play ball.”