Hoping to Win the Bigger Battle

Jake Johns was a freshman when he received a call that would change his and his family’s lives forever. He was at OU’s Relay for Life event in April of 2016 when he was told by his immediate family his dad was diagnosed with cancer.

“Hearing the word cancer is something you hope you never hear. I was honestly shocked”, Johns said of his reaction to learning of his dad’s sickness. The path Johns had with his family’s upcoming battle ran side by side with his relationship with Relay for Life.

Jake had a bond with his father Ray Johns that was unbreakable. Their relationship had formed through spending hours together fishing in upstate New York and countless whiffle ball swings in the backyard. The Johns’ family moved to the affluent Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park from Connecticut when he was in middle school. It was his father who helped him get through some difficult times during this process.

“He was there when I had trouble with school, sports, grades or girls and was behind me when I was succeeding in every aspect of my life”. The elder Johns like using negative moments as teaching points for Jake and his younger brother, Sam.

“He constantly would get on me about being a gentleman and doing the right thing. He made sure I was growing up to be the best person that I could be”. So as Jake Johns was less than a year removed from seeing his dad in the stands at sporting events, he was left in shock that his role model had been diagnosed with a disease that has taken so many before him.

It was at the beginning of Jake’s sophomore year, that his dad’s health began to really decline, due to his blood cancer. Before this, he’d been confident that everything would work out, as his father and the rest of his family remained in high spirits.

After returning home every weekend in August and part of September of his sophomore year, the already dreary outlook took an even worse turn. When the previously positive doctors started to worry, the older Johns son realized that things weren’t well.

“He had fallen into a coma and was on a ventilator the last couple weeks of his life. When the doctors told my family to prepare for the worst, that’s when it really hit me”, Jake said. “We were all around his bed and got to watch him take his final breath, which was an experience I would never trade away”. Ray Johns passed away on September 18, 2016.

Preceding the death, Jake had dealt with the horrible situation remarkably well, according to friends. He didn’t cry once during his dad’s battle with the deathly disease.

“Jake was really tough about the situation. He handled the situation about as well as you could imagine”, said Justin Reinking, a friend and pledge brother of Johns. But following Ray Johns’ passing, his son was left questioning everything.

“I didn’t understand why it had to happen to our family”. Jake was angry that he would never be able to create more memories with his hero. They wouldn’t be able to fly fish together in New York anymore, or play catch in the front yard.

Knowing how losing someone close to him impacted him, the Texan wanted a way of sharing his story and helping others cope with losing loved ones. This is where things came full circle between Jake and Relay for Life.

Relay for Life is a nation wide event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. Participants walk around a track for hours at a time, to signify that “cancer never sleeps”. Often times, those involve walk in honor of someone who is fighting or who fought cancer. Jake became a member of the Relay executive committee and wanted to use the organization as a way to help others who are experiencing similar pains and emotions to what he dealt with.

“I want to continue to be a source of comfort for those who are struggling and coping with a loss of a loved one. I understand what it is like and want to be there and give back to those directly affected”, said the current OU junior. The relationships that he’s made through the organization, alone, have helped with the closure process.

Ending cancer is his ultimate goal, however. He understands how difficult and far off this may be. But he has confidence in the organization which he’d shared his emotions.

“My goal in Relay is to ideally cure cancer for good. Although that is a far shot, I want to do everything in my power to raise as much money as possible”. In 2016, Jake helped OU’s Relay for Life raise over 200 thousand dollars for the American Cancer Society.

“Jake has really turned what was a bad situation, into a positive. He really wants to fight cancer and he uses Relay for Life as his platform to do that. He doesn’t want others to go through what he did. This is something he is really passionate about. He really wants to help others out and I respect the hell out of that”, said Reinking.

Through both financial and emotional support, those same people who surrounded Jake Johns when his phone rang with the devastating news about his dad in April 2016 are now the ones helping him with his fight to end the disease that killed his father.

“I’m still mad about that I had to lose my dad so early. But instead of complaining about it and letting it ruin my life, I want to use it as a motivation to cure cancer. Relay for Life has given me that opportunity. I don’t know if I’d be in as good of a state right now if it weren’t for Relay. It’s really helped me recover”, Johns said. This is a battle that seems far from being defeated, but it will take people like Jake Johns to make it a possibility.

A difficult run

By Parker Biggs

The way he runs is aggressive and intense. As he races past, you can see the veins popping out and intensity in his face. But the thing that sticks out most is the passion. You can see it in his face, as he dons Oklahoma Nike gear head to toe.

As he exits the track, he wipes the sweat off of his face with his grey “Oklahoma Track & Field” t-shirt and smiles. He smiles after running around the oval track 16 times, equaling nearly 4 miles. It was an off day for him, so he couldn’t complain. The hard stuff was later in the week.

“He grew up loving sports. He loved competition, but more than anything he loved winning. That was something he always talked about. Everything changed when he got to OU, I think. It was different. He just didn’t really have it anymore”, said Blake Yount, a former teammate. This lead to an unfulfilling freshman season, where he didn’t compete and was eventually redshirted.

The high school accomplishments from Staub are endless. The Jenks High School standout was part of 4 team state championship teams. His tenure included being named a Freshman All-American and Oklahoma Runner of the Year, before he could legally drive a car and was capped off by breaking the state record in the 2-mile race, with a time of 9:16 as a junior.

“He was on another level. Our team was really really good. But Chris was on another level athletically”, said high school teammate Will Littlefield.

He’s a rare talent for a distance runner. At 6’1” and weighing 190 pound of mostly muscle, Staub outweighs every one of his distance running teammates by at least 35 pounds.

None of this translated to the collegiate level, upon the high school All-American’s arrival. When talking to him, he often reiterated how easy it was for him in high school.

“He was better than everyone in Oklahoma at the high school level. I don’t think realize he realized how much work he was going to have to put in for him to succeed in the Big 12. He wanted to come to OU and be a star on the track team, but also have a social life, too. He likes being the life of the party”, said Staub’s roommate, Andrew Miller.

His social skills are apparent when spending time around him. Groups of teammates would walk by him, yet he seemed to dominate the conversations without even trying. It was his need to be out with his friends Wednesday’s through Saturday’s, however, that hurt his track career, upon arriving in Norman.

I could feel my head pounding as I heard Staub speak about his Sunday morning practices at 7 am that he arrived to after 4 hours of sleep. While his times on the track remained stagnant, teammates continued to improve.

“We didn’t really care much freshmen year. We both cared more about going out and meeting girls than we probably should have. I think this definitely slowed down Chris’s progress”, said Yount, who is now running at Colorado State.

While Chris began to focus more for his redshirt freshman season, he still was not fully invested. He competed in both cross-country and track, but never broke through to truly contribute to the team. All he could do was shake his head in disappointment when asked about his 2016-2017 season.

“He wasn’t enjoying himself. He didn’t seem like he really wanted to be at practice. He was drained. It was hard on him not to win. It got to the point where I don’t think he wanted his parents to watch our meets. He needed something to motivate him. That finally came last track season”, said Taylor Click, a graduated teammate. Getting beat by an unnamed teammate in a meet was that motivation.

“Chris won’t admit it, but that stung. He knew he was better than this guy. His times in high school blew his out of the water. Chris is a significantly better runner. After that, he was a different person. He was more passionate when he showed up at the next practice, and hasn’t looked back since”, Click went onto say.

With this turning point coming at the end of the season, Staub had a summer ahead of him to prepare for the current cross-country season. A study abroad trip to Italy could not slow down his preparation. Multiple classmates of Staubs mentioned his 6 am runs through the streets of Rome, Florence and Venice. That drive continued up until his arrival for fall practice in August.

“I’d already transferred to CSU (Colorado State) when they all reported in August. But I got a couple texts from old teammates saying how much better Staub looked than he did his first few years”, Yount said.

This revitalized passion is already starting to payoff. Staub has competed in every one of the Sooners’ cross-country meets so far this fall, being the third ranked runner on the team. Staub is happy with his progress, but made sure I knew that cross-country is a little long for him and that his hard work will really show up when track season starts.

“It’s weird. He hardly ever goes out anymore. He’s really locked in. Now that he’s a junior (redshirt sophomore), he realized that his time is running out. He doesn’t want to waste his lone opportunity to be a college athlete”, Miller said. “I can tell that he really wants to win. He’s a competitor. I think he’s got that feeling again. He doesn’t want to be mediocre. He wants to win”.

As he exited the track facility, he made sure I knew when he had upcoming meets in Norman. It was clear that he is now confident in himself and wanted others to see. Before he hopped in his bright orange Jeep, I had one last question for him. I asked him if he loved running for the University of Oklahoma.

His answer? “Hell yeah”.

Q&A: Major changes in life by Parker Biggs

By Parker Biggs

Andrew Miller is a junior at the University of Oklahoma. Andrew hails from the state of Oklahoma, like many other students. Also like other students, he has experienced the difficulties of changing majors- twice. He sat down with me to discuss this.

 

Can you give some background on yourself?

I grew up in Tulsa my whole life with both of my parents and an older sister. I am a Jenks “lifer”, where I played baseball and basketball throughout youth sports, before transitioning to baseball only during high school. I love watching and playing sports and spending time with friends and family

 

How did you end up coming to OU?

Once I realized I didn’t want to play baseball in college, I wanted to come to OU because I’ve been a die hard fan my whole life and I didn’t think there was any better place to go.

 

What are you majoring in?

I’m currently majoring in sports management, but recently I changed from advertising, due to a change in heart. I realized going into junior year that advertising wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was originally a general business major when I first came to OU.

 

Has it been difficult switching majors several times?

It’s been difficult, but this is one of the hardest and most important decisions of someone’s life and making sure you make the right choice is the most important thing. Even though it’s going to set me back, it will definitely pay off in the long run.

 

Looking back on it, would you have rather have had one major the whole time?

Yeah. Obviously, figuring out your major at first would be the easiest thing. But part of college is figuring out what you like and dislike and figuring out who you are. Switching majors has helped me find what I truly love.

 

In what ways have the major changes impacted your academic career?

Switching from advertising to a business major has caused me to take several freshman/sophomore classes that I now need for my major. This is kind of tough because I don’t have as many friends to study or do homework with.

 

Do you have any advice for younger students who switch majors?

Whatever your major is, make sure that you 100% enjoy it. Be able to know that this is something that you want to do for the rest of your life. Keep on searching until you find the major that you are truly passionate for. Switching majors isn’t going to kill you.

 

Earlier you mentioned that the major switch would set you back. In what ways do you mean?

It could push my graduation back. I may end up graduating in December 2019, rather than in May. An extra football season in Norman isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.

 

Are you confident that this will be the major that you graduate with?

Hopefully so (laughing). I feel very happy as a sports management major. So unless something crazy happens, I will graduate as a sports management major. But I guess anything can happen.

Essay: Support from a community

By Parker Biggs, JMC2023

Sitting in the doctors office at 15 years old is never fun. It was a visit that I dreaded and still dread today. There was something different about this visit, however. There was almost an eeriness in the room as I awaited the return of my pediatrician. When he returned to the room, he was not his typical fun-natured self. With a straight face, he quickly told my mom and I that we needed to see a specialist with better MRI equipment.

This scared the hell out of me. Just a few weeks before I was preparing for my freshman track and field season and now I’m rushing off to another doctors office and don’t know exactly what is going on. I’d been suffering headaches at the back of my head for several weeks and my mom thought it would be a good idea to go check it out. I was thinking it was just early spring allergies, or possibly a sinus infection. So when I was told that I needed to go to a facility with the best MRI equipment, I quickly realized that this was no sinus infection.

After lying down under several x-ray and MRI machines, I waited to hear what was going on. I waited for a full day before my father was contacted. My parents sat me down and told me that I had a brain cyst. And according to the person on the other end of the call with my dad, it was large. I had no idea what a cyst was. But for the teenager who always tried to act tough around campus; it scared me. After several discussions with experts, my parents decided my best option was to have the cyst drained by a brain surgeon in Dallas.

In the weeks leading up to the operation, I found out lots about my friends, family and community. As a freshman, I really did not know the head track coach too well. I wasn’t a superstar and didn’t compete on varsity, so we didn’t have much interaction. But this man went out of his way to show support. Every day leading up to the surgery, he was asking for updates. He always made sure I knew that I was in his thoughts and prayers. He literally gave my phone number to every member on the team the night before I was in the hospital. I was receiving texts from the senior D1 football commits, whom I’d never spoken to. I was receiving calls from teammates that I hadn’t spoken with since elementary school. This along with the kind words from schoolteachers and principals really showed the strength of the community and helped me feel at ease as I was off to the hospital.

While I may have gone into the surgery with some confidence, the weeks following the operation may have been tougher. After a successful surgery, I was out of school for a couple weeks as I recovered from the pain in my head and neck. Things were different upon my return. I was out of athletics indefinitely. So the security that I had always felt from having teammates that backed me up could be gone, I thought. And on top of that, a big chunk of my hair was shaved off the back of my head, where I had a 6 inch nasty scar staring right in the eyes of fellow classmates walking behind me. I didn’t want to return to school like this. No more girls, no more touchdowns, no more popularity. My mind was racing. But I toughened up and returned to the Jenks High School Freshman Academy. I immediately realized how great this community was. While coaches, parents and administrators were always making sure I was doing well, my friends treated me the same as they always did. They didn’t ditch me because of my gnarly scar or not want to hangout because I was no longer on the football team. Normalcy is what I needed during that time. I never asked for it, but it was as if those closest with me knew exactly what I needed.

Being a freshman in high school is scary. Being a freshman in high school having a brain surgery is even scarier. The strength of a community helped pushed me through it, however. It didn’t have to be that way. That coach had no reason to go out of his way to show support, but he did. My classmates could have easily picked on me for my shaved hair, but they didn’t. It has been about five and a half years, yet I am still thankful for how I was treated by my community.