Look around the sports world, and it’s easy to become cynical with the me-first attitudes, the sky-high salaries and the law-breaking antics. But all is not lost. You’ll know that once you hear the story of Javier Restrepo. It is a tale about a little boy and his battle with leukemia. The youngest son of the Oklahoma volleyball coach fought it for almost three years, even had it beat a time or two. But then earlier this month, the cancerous monster won. So, you might think this is a story about heartbreak and despair, and while it is those things, it is also about something greater. Something better. Javi, as everyone calls him, was only 2 years old when doctors diagnosed him with leukemia. His prognosis was good, though, his chance for survival was great. His parents decided on an aggressive form of treatment — massive doses of chemotherapy. Going after the disease was the only way that his parents knew. Santiago and Heidi, after all, have always been fighters, always faced every challenge head on. That’s what he did when he left his home in Colombia to play volleyball in the United States. Ditto for her when she went to law school. The treatment worked on Javi, the cancer went into remission, and slowly, he recovered. His energy returned. So did his love for playing and running and roughhousing. Then last summer, he started feeling sick. A trip to the doctor confirmed the worst fears. The leukemia was back. There would be more chemo, this time to kill off Javi’s bone marrow so he could have a transplant from his older brother, Diego. Everything went as planned except for one side effect — the drugs nearly destroyed Javi’s liver. He needed a liver transplant. The volleyball community both near and far had long been aware of Javi’s situation. Pete Wung, a longtime friend of the Restrepos, posted information on the popular volleyball internet message boards from the beginning, and people always responded with concern and support. When he posted a note about Javi’s transplant — "We need a liver donor right away” — the volleyball world sprung into action. Registries were scoured. Parents were tested. Perfect strangers wanted to find a donor for Javi. Eventually, Heidi’s brother-in-law was deemed a match, and the Restrepos went to a hospital in Delaware that specializes in childhood organ transplants. They were there for two months. When Javi was finally released in March, the family had to drive back to Oklahoma because he was still susceptible to germs. They would have to drive back to Delaware for check-ups every couple months, too. Bob Stoops heard about the Restrepos’ two-day drives. Like everyone in the athletic department, the Sooner football coach knew about Javi’s cancer. He paid for a private jet to take the Restrepos to Delaware, then bring them back to Oklahoma. As spring wore into summer, Javi continued to improve. He felt good enough to spend some time with his dad in the Sooner volleyball offices. But not long after during check-up, doctors checked Javi’s bone marrow and returned with a devastating diagnosis. The leukemia had returned again, and half of the marrow was affected. The situation left doctors with no more options. Nothing could be done. That didn’t stop folks from trying. The OU athletic department organized a multi-sport morning for Javi. He played football on Owen Field and baseball at Mitchell Park and basketball at Lloyd Noble Center and soccer on John Crain Field. He was joined by Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, Garrett Buechele, Whitney Hand, Ryan Wright and several other Sooners. OU women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale arranged for a portrait photographer to spend time with the family. Stoops again offered a private jet, this time to take the Restrepos to Florida for a day at the beach. And when Javi died on the last day of July, surrounded by people who loved him, people who loved the Restrepos rallied around them. Athletic director Joe Castiglione flew family members to Norman for the funeral. The OU volleyball team designed a patch to wear in Javi’s memory. Big 12 volleyball officials did the same. Who knows where it will stop? Saturday morning in Shawnee, a run/walk is planned to raise money for the family. "Steppin’ for Restrepo” is the brainchild of former Sooner player and current Oklahoma Baptist coach Anna Monsen, who has appealed to coaches and players, parents and supporters across the state. "It has been remarkable,” said assistant athletic director Nicki Moore of all of the helping hands. "Neat things around every corner.” No one has sought attention for what they did, the care and love they showered on the family, the support and concern they showed over these past few years. They saw someone in need and wanted to help. There is no doubt that the sports world has its bad apples, but any time you wonder whether the whole barrel has been tarnished, remember the story of Javier Restrepo. It is a story of hope.
Steppin’ for Restrepo→What: Run/walk to raise funds in memory of Javier Restrepo, the 4-year-old son of Oklahoma volleyball coach Santiago Restrepo who died after battling leukemia for almost three years →When: 10 a.m. Saturday →Where: Oklahoma Baptist University, Shawnee →Cost: $15 →More information: www.okchargevolleyball.com