The idea came over lobster bites and potato soup. It was a good day for John Challis, because he cleaned his plate and didn't become violently ill. Challis has defied grim cancer prognoses for two years, because, he says, he has so much to look forward to.
"God still has a mission for John," says Steve Wetzel, his baseball coach at Freedom (Pa.) High School. "I truly believe that. John Challis isn't going anywhere. He still has work to do on earth."
Later this month, Challis and Wetzel will officially start the John Challis Courage for Life Foundation to assist seriously ill children. The foundation will arrange sports trips for sick children to meet their favorite athletes. Eventually, Challis wants to set up a message board for kids to converse with each other about treatments and their struggles with being sick.
Challis has hobnobbed with the A-list of professional sports lately, mingling with everyone from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to former Penguins hockey great Mario Lemieux to Cleveland Indians skipper Eric Wedge. They know about his inspirational story, and how he got his first varsity baseball hit in April despite being sapped by cancer treatments and weighing just 93 pounds.
Challis says life has been a mix of good and bad days, and he hit a very rough patch a few weeks ago. Wracked with pain from a radiation treatment, he developed severe swelling around his waist and legs. One night, he called Wetzel and said, "Coach, this has been the worst couple of days. I feel terrible. But I'm not going to stop fighting."
A week later, Challis graduated from high school. He hopes to go to college this fall, and is putting together a scrapbook of his summer with Wetzel. They drove to Cleveland for an Indians game recently, and Challis napped on the way home. Normally, Wetzel says, Challis gets sick during a long, 13-hour day. But on this day, he stayed strong.
"Before the game, he said, 'It's amazing to see two teams I haven't seen before. That's going to be great, Coach. But the best thing is that it's just going to be me and you.'
"We saved our ticket stubs," Wetzel says. "That meant the world to me. That makes my life all worthwhile."
Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer at ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.