Paden hadn't touched a basketball since the day she felt that pain in her neck. Since the diagnosis that followed, her life had been about cancer, not basketball. It made her frustrated and angry and sad.
She wasn't sure she wanted to be back out on a court.
Then, she met Brodrick.
* * *
Brodrick decided that they were not only going onto the court during the basketball bash but also going to do a wacky handshake and dance when Paden was introduced.
He teased her the entire time.
By the time Paden was introduced, she was laughing and smiling. Beaming really.
The smile never left her face.
“This has been the best day ever,” she told her mom when they got in the car after the game. “I'm so glad I did this.”
Only a few weeks later, Paden and Brodrick crossed paths again at Art with a Heart, featuring artwork by young cancer patients and benefiting Oklahoma Children's Cancer Association. They talked, and they laughed.
A bond was built.
In the months that have followed, Paden and her family invited Brodrick to spend Easter with them and asked him to attend the fall review pep rally at school. They also went to every Cowboy game in Stillwater, arriving early to see The Walk and staying late outside Boone Pickens Stadium to visit Brodrick.
On game days, he always wore one of Paden's cheerleading pins, a big, circular button with a color photo of her in uniform.
“We just feel like (he's) a part of our family,” Paden's mom said.
Brodrick said, “That's a great family. You never know who you're going to meet once you get to college.”
Or what impact they might have.
* * *
Paden believes she is a better person for knowing Brodrick. He helped her overcome some of the anger that had come along with her cancer. He coaxed her into a happier place.
But Brodrick is the one who feels all the benefits of the relationship are his.
“It's just a blessing to be in her presence,” he said. “After everything she's been through, she's a champion at heart. She's a champion in my eyes.”
So, as the regular season wound down and his foot got worse and worse, he refused to let it keep him from playing. He might not practice. He might need crutches. He might be frustrated about the way the secondary was playing and have every reason to sit out.
But come Saturdays, he was playing.
The cornerback who will make his 41st consecutive start Tuesday in the Heart of Dallas Bowl followed the example of the cheerleader who got cancer.
Brodrick fought like Paden did.
“She's inspired me,” he said. “She's my hero.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.