'Bigger than the game': Lone Peak football players and cheerleaders grant wishes to 2 terminally ill children

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 24 2013 4:05 p.m. MST

An unexpected act of kindness had granted a lifelong wish. “I’m so grateful — no one will ever know,” Abby says, her voice trembling. “It’s made my life change. It’s made me more positive; I’m not sad. I’m so grateful for the people in this school.”

The kindness had only begun. Unaware of the cheerleaders’ actions, the football players presented Hunter his own, custom-stitched Lone Peak jersey and asked him to be the third football player in the Harwood family.

“Shocked doesn’t even describe it,” Kathy says. ”I was completely dumbfounded."

“Making him part of the team was natural,” Dylan Murdock explains. “You see them and you love them. There’s so much more to life than football and sometimes you get stuck in that moment. Then you see these kids and it’s like, ‘What would they give to be out there?’”

Wyatt, who suits up on the JV team, was overcome. “I had no clue they were doing it. They just did it because they were good people. It meant a tremendous amount to me.”

Friendships blossomed, replacing lives consumed by evaluations, medication and loneliness with a sense of belonging. “All they wanted was a taste of what it was like to be normal,” Kathy says. “These kids made them popular in a world where they never would have been.”

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The football season has passed, but the connection remains. Recently, Hunter fell into life-threatening septic shock. Understanding the severity of the condition, players dropped by unannounced for extended visits with Hunter, reaffirming what Hunter already knew.

“This team is made of real superheroes,” Kathy says smiling. “These are the real guys in his mind.”

Early in the season, during a routine practice, Gajkowski exposed his Batman-decaled backplate to Hunter’s amazement. “I told you he was Batman,” he said delicately.

“That’s his secret identity, huh?” Kathy replied.

Blessed with God-given athletic ability, Gajkowski was taken aback. “He literally believed I was Batman,” Gajkowski says. “A lot of times in football no one really believes you can win. Just knowing that someone really believed not only in me as a football player, but me as a person was incredible.”

Society sometimes isolates perceived weaknesses from misguided fears of stopping progress to accompany the frail in an accelerated life. Teenagers engulfed within individual agendas — not from malice but rather immaturity — forget appreciation is obtained behind the crowd.

“After some of the rougher games I’d come off the field and I wasn’t having it,” Gajkowski explains. “I didn’t perform well; my body was hurting; it’s tough emotionally. Then you see Hunter’s got the biggest smile on his face. Stuff is bigger than the game.

“It puts it into a different perspective,” he continues. “Obviously, I feel blessed for the life that I’ve lived, but it’s a feeling that’s different. I come off the field almost in tears to (hear) Hunter say, ‘You played great.’ There’s times that felt sweeter than winning. You can look at it as we’re helping them, but in all reality I’ve never been touched more by anyone else in all of my playing through football. It impacted my life.”

Cheerleader Morgan Hellbusch relates: “(Abby) made us such better people. We’re so much more positive about our lives.”

The lessons were equally shared. Abby’s feeble spirit was replenished with hope while Hunter’s interaction struggles improved.

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