Kids today. What are you going to do with them? What hope is there for this video game-addled, cell phone-addicted, saggy pants-wearing generation?
Take Porter Ellett, for instance. He's a total loser. President of his class at Wayne High School. President of his seminary class. An Eagle Scout. Plans to serve a mission for his church. Looks you in the eye when he talks to you. Clean-cut handsome. Competes on the school's basketball, track, cross country and baseball teams.
Oh, yeah, and he has only one arm. The other one was a nuisance, so he got rid it. When he was 4 years old, he fell out of a pickup truck. The resulting nerve damage left the arm hanging limply at his side. A couple of years ago, after breaking the arm a half-dozen times, he had it removed. ...
"I decided it would be less of a hassle just to have it amputated," he said.
A right-hander, he had to teach himself to be left-handed when he was a kid. He tucked the bat under his chin, tossed the ball in the air, grabbed the bat and swung at it. That's how he learned to hit a baseball. He took up four sports. "We don't have a football team or I would have done that, too, dang it," he says with a smile.
Porter practiced until blisters formed on his hands. "I didn't want people to think I was just some feel-good story sitting on the bench," he says.
Little League parents on the opposing team complained that he was going to get hurt; by the end of the game, they were complaining because he was beating them.
He was named the 1A Class baseball MVP last fall. He helped his team reach the state playoffs in basketball. He qualified for last weekend's state track and field championships in the 400- and 800-meter runs and the 4X400 relay.
He was asked to appear on "Good Morning America" last winter. He agreed but only if he could bring his basketball teammates with him. They were the reason he was successful, he said.
Kids, what are you going to do with them?
Take Mandy Rudd, the Hillcrest High School sprinter and hurdler, for instance. She's got rosy cheeks and pale green eyes and a smile that could cause global warming. An opposing coach said it best: "She glows." She's an A student and a National Honor Society member and an athlete on the Hillcrest basketball, volleyball and track teams.
Friends says that if someone is down or having a bad day, she seeks them out. Which is funny because she should be the one having the bad day. She's got cystic fibrosis, a gnarly inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive systems of about 30,000 in the U.S. A defective gene causes the body to produce a thick mucus that, among other things, clogs the lungs and leads to potentially lethal lung infections.
Mandy takes pills when she eats so she can digest food. She has to add salt to everything she ingests, even Gatorade. Twice a day she puts on a high-tech vest that uses pulsating air to pound her back and ribs to knock loose the mucus that collects in her lungs, which she then spits out.
"I'm good at coughing up loogies," says Mandy, whose younger sister and teammate, Natalie, also has CF.
With CF, it can be difficult enough just to breathe under normal circumstances, never mind sprinting 400 meters all out. "I feel blessed to be able to do sports because most people with CF are too ill to do that," she says. If nothing else, all that heavy breathing helps knock the mucus out of her lungs she's always running to the sideline to hawk a loogie.
She qualified for state last year in the hurdles and qualified all four years in the 4X400 relay.
CF patients are typically hospitalized two to three times a year for one problem or another. Mandy has been fortunate she has been hospitalized only three times, including once during her sophomore track season. She was given a pic line a tube inserted into her arm and threaded up into her chest to deliver medicine directly to her heart. Eager to get back to the track, she begged out of the hospital and was allowed home treatment. Between treatments, she ran track as usual, with the pic line in her arm.
Talk about guts.
The Rudds have a family motto: No regrets. They don't have time for them. When Mandy was born, the Rudds were told the life expectancy of a CF child was 18. The life expectancy now is 30 to 40. Mandy is too busy to think about it. She plans to study dental hygiene at Utah Valley University.
A couple of years ago, the Make-A-Wish Foundation told Mandy to make a wish. She took the entire family to Thailand to ride elephants. Now she serves as a spokeswoman for the organization.
Her philosophy: "Never let the disease be a road block in your life. Never use it as an excuse. I forget I have it. It's just who I am."
Kids what are you going to do with them?
Take Matt Lambert, for instance. He's a senior who runs for the West Jordan High track and cross country teams. He's never won a race. He's always last. He's seen more backsides than a proctologist. But he's the fan favorite, the guy who gets the applause. "He's going to finish last in every race," says coach Kevin Fletcher. "No one cares."
Matt is autistic, but he didn't let that stop him. He followed his brother, Bob, a former West Jordan star who runs for Weber State, and joined the team. He shows up every day for practice. Not only that, he shows up ready to work and as pleasant as a Sunday afternoon.
"He's a happy, sweet, spiritual kid," says Fletcher. "If he doesn't get to heaven, nobody will."
Last fall the cross country teams at Bingham, Copper Hills and West Jordan chipped in money and bought Matt a letter jacket. "You've never seen anyone wear a jacket so much and with so much pride," says Fletcher.
E-mail: [email protected]