SELLERSBURG, Ind. — The Silver Creek West Dragons youth football team runs a play called 121 Power.
It’s a fairly common play in the Wing-T offense and they run it often. The play was a special part of Saturday night’s game against Scottsburg because of not only the result, but the person who was carrying the ball.
Aiden Johnson, 12, has beaten cancer twice. On Saturday, he joined the Dragons on the field and ran the ball on 121 Power. It’s a play he won’t soon forget.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “I was here for another game once but I didn’t play.”
One of Aiden’s coaches, Jeff Dickson, says the coaching staff combined for the idea of getting Aiden into the game to score.
“We made him a part of the team,” Dickson said. “We felt it was a good thing to do.”
Dickson and the other coaches introduced Aiden to the team at Thursday’s practice. Many of them already knew him from school. Aiden’s father, Jason Johnson, told his son’s story to the team.
“We told the players the idea of what we wanted to do and they were super excited,” Dickson said.
When the Dragons coaches approached Scottsburg with the idea, they agreed immediately.
“We were talking about it today and there was no hesitation. We’re all for it,” Scottsburg coach Jason Reynolds said. “It’s a valuable life lesson. It’s about letting them know that now matter what happens in life, sometimes it all depends on how you act.”
When Aiden Johnson walks around smiling with his spiked brown hair, you wouldn’t know it, but he has overcome so much. Much more than the average 12-year-old should have to.
Aiden was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was just 3-years-old. His mother, Gena, took him to the hospital when she noticed some swelling in his neck. The aftermath of that doctor’s visit has shaped the last nine years for the Johnson family.
“(Aiden) has taught me to never take life for granted,” Gena Johnson said. “Things can change in an instant with cancer. Just because you’re doing good with it today doesn’t mean when you wake tomorrow you’re doing good with it. You never take life for granted.”
Jason says his son’s battle has given him a new perspective on life.
“For me, the blinders have come off,” Jason Johnson said. “You think you’re headed in one direction and this happens to you. The world just stops. Then all of the sudden it’s just day-by-day life. You don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Aiden beat cancer for the first time on his sixth birthday. About two years later, he was at a camp and he had some bruising when he returned. Another doctor’s visit confirmed what Gena and Jason feared — the cancer was back.
“This whole battle has taught us to be kinder to people and appreciate life in general,” Gena said. “Smile to everybody because you don’t know what their battles are. He has taught me joy.”
During much of Aiden’s battle, he was either in the hospital or isolated at home. Aiden referred to the isolation as “the bubble.” When he was at his sickest, he was only allowed to be with his family because even a common cold could have ended his life.
Gena says the neighborhood kids would come over and ask if Aiden could play, but she had to tell them he was too sick.
“When those kids would come knocking on the door and I’d say, ‘He can’t play today,’ Aiden was disappointed, but they were just as disappointed,” she said while holding back tears.
Aiden has impacted his parents a great deal. He also impacted his teammates Saturday.
“It’s an honor to be able to watch him do this,” Jason said before his son took the field. “(His teammates) actually get something out of this too. They’re giving something to a kid who has kind of had his childhood stripped away from him.”
During Aiden’s extended stays in the hospital — some as long as 45 days in a row — he found comfort in playing with Legos.
Without hesitation, Aiden says the coolest Lego creation he has made is the Death Star from Star Wars. He was only strong enough to work on it for about a half hour at a time. It took Aiden about 16 hours to put the 3,802 pieces together.
“For me, when I built it, I felt like a normal kid,” he explained. “So I want other kids to feel like a normal kid when their going through long treatments of cancer.”
Aiden looked at his mom one day and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if all the kids fighting cancer could have Legos?”
His idea soon went into action. People began donating Legos and Gena was ready for the charity — now named Aiden’s Legacy — to take more action.
The kind leader, Aiden was ready to make a difference. So in June 2015, he presented a pledge commitment check for $250,000 to the cancer floor at the hospital. As of Saturday, Gena says they’ve raised around $170,000 and they have four more years to meet the goal.
“For him to think about kids in the same situation he’s going through, it just speaks volumes of who he is,” Gena said. “He has a heart for God, he loves Jesus and Jason and I couldn’t be more proud of the little guy that he is.”
Aiden’s next plan is to line the floors of a part of the hospital with Legos.
“We’re gonna do it!” Aiden exclaimed.
About a year ago, Aiden found out the cancer was in remission.
He’ll still receive check-ups to make sure it’s not returning. Later in life, he’ll need to keep an eye on some of the side effects that six years of chemotherapy have on the body.
Gena says life is never ever normal for a family that has cancer, but this is about as normal as it’s been for the Johnson’s in awhile.
“Now we can plan stuff. How do we do that?” Jason asked.
“We’re not used to it,” Gena added.
The little things seem to impact the Johnson’s most. During the height of Aiden’s battle, the Johnson’s couldn’t even run to the store for milk. Now they can go out to dinner and plan things out weeks into the future, a luxury many take for granted.
The Johnsons will even be taking a trip to Disney World in March because Aiden was named the Children’s Miracle Network Champion for Kentucky.
They’re hoping to visit the famed Lego Land.
Aiden’s favorite sport is basketball. He loves the Kentucky Wildcats. His favorite player is former UK star John Wall. Aiden used to do the trendy John Wall dance, but not any more. It’s old.
He tried out for the basketball team once and did not make it.
“We’ve put a lot of chemo in that kid’s body,” Jason said. “He didn’t have a whole lot of genes to go with anyway, with me being as short as I am.”
Playing sports is as fun for Aiden as it is for any other kid. More than anything, he wants to spend time with his friends — something he hasn’t had too much of a chance to do.
“Aiden just wants to feel like he’s part of the team,” Gena Johnson said. “He just wants to be with his buddies.”
Gena rattled off some of the Aiden’s cancer-related statistics before the game to provide some scope on what her son has been through — 893 rounds of chemo, 94 blood transfusions, 14 surgeries and he’s lost his hair five times.
After Saturday, a new statistic stands out – one touchdown.
Source: News and Tribune, http://bit.ly/2cxg6vl
Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the (Jeffersonville) News and Tribune.