WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP | Through the lowest, darkest moments of his brain cancer ordeal, Jon Nugent never lost sight of enjoying the things he loves.
His mom Jo's "Green Blood Chicken" (chicken and broccoli), and sports.
"At his sickest, he always wanted to go to games," Jo said.
There were times when hope seemed dim. A chunky 160 pounds before being diagnosed in sixth grade, Jon dropped to 90 pounds in two months. He wanted to give up the fight, saying, "I'm done," but Jo, who spent three months with him in Indianapolis while he was undergoing grueling therapy, wouldn't let him.
"I told him, if you want to play sports again, you've got to start by walking to the bathroom," she said. "He had a few rocky roads, as every patient does."
The process, literally and figuratively, was step-by-step. Nugent, a 15-year old sophomore at Washington Township, plays soccer and volleyball, and is also the team manager for the girls basketball and track teams.
"I wanted to get back to all the sports I did before," Nugent said. "It's something to do after school. It's more fun than sitting at home, being bored. I was tired of lying in bed, doing nothing."
Back in December, the family received the best news possible — Jon was in full remission. He has to continue to take medication for seizures, but he's well on his way to being his old self again. He's still working to regain his endurance, but is back up to 135 pounds.
"The doctor said most patients become couch potatoes," Jo said. "Jon's one of the few to get back into sports."
Tuesday was declared Jonathan Nugent Day in Valparaiso. That night, during the Senators' girls game with Morgan Township, Jon was lauded as a 2013 Riley Champion. The occasion not only celebrated his recovery, but his endeavor to raise funds for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation (PBTF).
"I'm a little nervous," he said. "I don't know what's going on. Somebody told me, 'Happy Jon Nugent Day.' I haven't gotten any presents yet."
Through a variety of activities Jon's coordinated, including a Grey Out and Bowl Over Brain Tumors, he's generated over $22,000 for the Ride for Kids program, which benefits PBTF's research efforts. Susan Miles from the Riley Children's Foundation was on hand to present a banner to be displayed in Jon's honor.
"Jon's a great success story," Ride for Kids Task Force Leader Bobby Newman said.
As it did during his cancer battle, Jon's competitive nature shines through in his fundraising. Jo relayed the story of how another boy raised $5,000, earning a jacket. Jon saw that and wanted to get his own jacket.
"It makes giving more of a real thing when it's somebody you know," W.T. athletic director and assistant principal Sue Lipinski said. "It's so cool that Jon sees beyond himself, what happened to him, and has used his own heart to help people. It's not an easy thing to do."
Jon would have been praiseworthy simply for enduring what he did, but he has a vision that belies his years.
"I don't want other kids to have to go through what I've gone through," he said.
Jo recalled a day when Jon was in class and teacher Michelle Jablonski recognized that he was down.
"She asked him what was wrong and he said, 'I want to be normal,'" she said. "She said, 'Do you know what normal means? It means ordinary. You'll never be ordinary because you are extraordinary."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.