FIRE UP FRIDAY! Today’s story is a profile of a huge NBA fan named Luke Weber and his remarkable family. They have filled my heart, warmed my soul and fired me up several times over.
About five years ago, my first group of fourth grade boys was winding down our first spring workout class. Eliza Weber, one of the mothers of a boy named Jack Weber, stopped me at the end of our workout.
“Would you work with Jack’s younger brother?”
“Sure. How old is he?”
“He’s 7 and he just finished chemo.”
“I’ll do my best, but I have to be honest,” I said. “I have never done this before and it would probably help if you told me what the docs and therapists say to do.”
She shook her head.
“You’re the only person who will be tough on him,” she said. “Everyone else babies him. He knows it. He plays them. You’ll toughen him up.”
I looked at her and thought, “How do you toughen up a kid who’s had cancer?”
To this day, I remember seeing Eliza and a sister or friend walk to the courts at Central Park. Out from the pack emerged this short, white, puffy boy with peach fuzz for hair. Chemo and several surgeries to remove tumors that were attacking his entire body had taken its toll, but it did not rob him of that flicker of light in his eyes and his wily grin. Luke wanted no part of this exercise thing, so he hid behind the small crowd.
“Let’s go Luke,” Eliza said as she pulled him out from behind legs and behinds. “Power through.”
We both agreed it was best for them to step away, but not too far away because I was nervous and I didn’t want to hurt him. I kept things stationary for a short time to see what Luke could do. Then I started bumping things up. I said I wanted him to lap the two basketball courts. He moaned, winced and grabbed his head.
Was he faking it or was he in pain?
I looked up in the far distance and Eliza Weber grinned at me. Same exact grin as Luke. I thought wow, this kid’s got both cancer and a crazy mother to worry about.
“Let’s go,” I told Luke. “You’ve got this.”
That one session turned into a few more. Then we put Luke into a small group workout in a tiny gym and we started to have fun with other kids. Soon I was going over to his house and taking him outside to run or in the basement to dance. Yes, dance. If it rained, we lifted weights, ran on the treadmill and danced in 30-second spurts. The puffiness started to disappear. I told him he should flex more. His arms were looking lean. He smiled at himself in the mirror. Then a few minutes later, he was trying to negotiate a deal to get out of the next drill. I said no way. He laughed. He said it was too tough.
“So you’re saying you can’t power through?” I said.
On some days, Luke trained for spurts as if he was Rocky Balboa. Other days, he dragged himself through the workouts and acted like he really did not want me around. I often had to guess if it was Luke being Luke or if he was feeling sick again.
In the meantime, there were several sessions either alone, with his cute and fun running partner, Skyler, or in small groups that I saw and felt two distinct looks from observers and passers-by. The first look was one of not just sympathy, but sympathy that is harmful. What I mean by that is I didn’t want anyone looking like they felt sorry for the kid, even though anyone with a heart and eyes could feel nothing else. The more they locked their sad eyes on him, the louder I yelled. Some of the moms then started glaring at me. I felt that was a whole lot better than making a kid feel like there was something wrong with him. That’s the worst damn feeling you can give a kid. This wasn’t his fault.
I went to each workout with no real plan until one day we as a group decided Luke and Skyler would run a mile by June 10. We’d go outside after the last day of school, run the mile and go out for a celebratory dinner. Luke actually hit the mile on his treadmill downstairs, and he and Sky hit the mile outside in early May. We were all happy, and then sort of bummed. “What now?”
We decided to box and throw a football around and wrestle outside on the grass in between our running workouts. We also mixed in a little more hoops. Life was good until one workout when the new Luke listed more than normal and then after having such a great series of runs, he ran for 10 steps, then stopped. I yelled. He ran for 15 steps, then stopped. I yelled more and nothing was working.
On the walk home, Luke was struggling to keep up just on the walk. I looked over my shoulder at a kid who liked to meander and wander, and I was ready to get on him again until I saw the look on his face.
“It feels like an army is attacking my body,” he said.
My heart hit the sidewalk. When I dropped him off, I told Eliza he wasn’t himself, but I tried to downplay it. I prayed all the way home. I felt so badly for yelling at him.
Within 10 days, Eliza called me and told me the cancer was back. Again.
Surgery and chemo again. I think this was the third time for Luke since he was three.
I can’t remember the exact timetable except that it was going to be a long summer. In between treatments, with the doctor’s permission, we were able to do simple workouts for 15-30 minutes at home by September. Luke’s nose would bleed as we shadow boxed, and he’d keep going. Then he’d run out of gas and have to sit down or do floor exercises or switch to dance-moves or a puppet show with his little sister, Arielle. He was okay, then his hearing had gotten worse. He had terrible headaches and dizzy spells.
I stayed for dinner one night. Jon, Luke’s dad, was away on business so I sat with Eliza and the kids. You could see how much his brother and sister loved Luke, and worried about him. Yet the talk was always about powering through. During serious times, during four hours of Horace Mann homework (yes, Luke attends what could be the toughest school in the country), during funny times when Luke simply was trying to find the most entertaining shortcut he could think of so that he could make more time to pursue his career as a professional Lego builder or as an actor or as the coach of the Miami Heat.
Then Luke’s white blood count dropped and he had to go back into the hospital where taking a lap around the floor was a form of torture due. I took one lap with him during a visit and I, the preacher of all things toughness, did everything not to cry.
When we got to the end of the lap, Dr. Wexler, Luke’s doctor, who is one of the greatest doctors in the world (no exaggeration) told Luke, “You want to get out of here and go home, don’t you? I know you can do it. You just got to keep walking.”
One good helping of toughness that all of us needed.
Luke looked at this doctor and winced. This was no game. With his mom and sitter out of the building, I picked Luke up and put him back into his bed.
Around four miraculous months later, thanks to his incredible doctors and the love of his family, Luke was on the basketball floor. I knew his Motion team was up against a weaker team, so I went to the gym and made sure Eliza was there. I snapped a ton of photos (that I can’t find right now) of the game and took this video (link below) to make a highlight reel. When Luke scored his first bucket, I looked at Eliza and for the first time in all the moments we’ve talked about the issue, she choked back tears. That’s when I knew that a kid as tough as Luke was brought into this world by one iron-clad mother.
And today the best of the best news hit my email box – on Fire Up Friday, the day I’d planned on writing about Luke Weber.
After my sister and I signed up to be on Team Luke this week, Eliza sent us an email that said Luke had his scans and he had clean results. Dr. Wexler said no more yearly scans since we are four-years post chemotherapy.
“Truly a miracle,” Eliza wrote.
Now Luke Weber is on a mission to inspire others and raise funding to cure rare cancers.
Luke has been the lead speaker at several prominent events. He even presented his case in Washington, DC. At any time, at any place, this kid will grab a microphone with little to no preparation, dig deep into his soul, open up his heart and without shedding a tear, have the entire room captivated in his story of how he powered through.
These videos will fire you up.
The first is a must-watch because Luke tells his story and the story of Cycle for Survival.
The second is of Luke playing in that awesome game where he did not see himself as a cancer survivor, but as nothing less than Dwayne Wade.
And if you are up for a third video that did not leave a dry eye in the joint, watch Luke take the stage with Matisyahu, and hear them sing a very special “One Day.”
Click here to donate to TEAM LUKE …
LUKE’S STORY: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RTL9btvxWw
LUKE AS DWAYNE WADE: https://vimeo.com/61281874
LUKE WITH MATISYAHU: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0-WxeSwOaw