BY JACOB NANO
Touchdown! I scored again. For that day, it wasn’t a big deal. It was just one of many that I managed to pull off against my peers. It was a beautiful New England afternoon. It was 50 degrees with a slight breeze. Perfect football weather. Foliage lined the base of our field and little animals could be heard running across the crisp, fallen leaves, collecting food for the winter. But it was on this seemingly ordinary day, that the most influential and ironic occurrence in my life commenced.
At the time, I was in 8th grade. I was a three-sport superstar and admired by my peers. A group of five other guys along with me played for our high school team, even though we were in middle school. Although it sounded pretty outstanding and uplifting, it was not much.
On a dry and cool autumn Tuesday, my middle school let us out early for a half day. However, the neighboring high school which we played for did not. So we decided to have our own little party. We ordered pizza and played football with friends until that bell rang. But it was that pick-up football game that changed my life. I played quarterback and was the captain of a team. And as the puffy white clouds passed overhead, so did touchdown after touchdown. A pick-up game never felt so real. It felt like I had a Patriots jersey on and my highlight reel was being shown across the country. Each time I would spike the ball in our badly marked end zone and toss the ball to my friend Keegan.
I scored and scored and scored five more before we checked the time. 11:50, five minutes before school got out. I had time for one more. My uncharacteristic cocky behavior drove me and I ran in for my last touchdown of the day. But with this one, it was different. I rushed the ball into the end zone and picked up a black pen hanging out of someone’s lingering backpack. Replicating a Canadian football player, I threw the cap of the pen off and signed my name in big, scripted letters. Everyone got a laugh out of it as I finished signing my name. What I said and did next would be the most ironic and inspirational moment of my young life. I tossed the newly inked pigskin to my friend Keegan and said, “Keep it. It’ll mean something one day.”
Fast forward fifty days and I am fighting for my life. Football season ended and as the last of the leaves fell from the trees, so did my lungs. Out of nowhere, pneumonia struck and both of my lungs collapsed. I was once 140 pounds of pure muscle. And I went down to 96 pounds of skin and bone. I entered the hospital fifty days after I tackled and punished people on the football field. And now I was put in a coma, and my death was pronounced immanent.
The reaction from my peers was amazing. They organized a dodge-ball tournament held in my name entitled “Pray for Nano,” where thousands of dollars were raised. People wrote letters and bought Christmas presents for me. But the most important thing that my lifelong friends did for me required no money at all.
Twenty-one days later my lungs were well enough for me to wake up. The battle was long from over, but I am alive. When I woke up, I looked to my left, and a teddy bear was rested in my arm. And as I look to the right, a football lies in my arm. As I gained the strength to pick it up, my eyes shine wide and my mouth cracks into a smile for the first time in weeks. Alongside the signature I left on that football almost three months ago, were those of my closest friends. The friends who came from Westminster to Boston through sleet and snow to visit me, although I was asleep, now gave me my most valued possession.
Three months ago, I handed that ball to Keegan and told him it would mean something one day. Little did I know that the person most affected by that football, would be me.