Things were becoming normal for the young family of four from Moore.
After being shuffled in and out of hospitals and treatment facilities for much of the past four years, eight-year-old Garrett Grider was finally healthy and able to enjoy activities most children his age take for granted. Evenings of Little League baseball replaced days of intense radiation sessions, and family get-togethers supplanted nauseating hours of chemotherapy.
WHAT: Raffle to help Garrett Grider
WHEN: Drawing Feb. 22
WHERE: Blazer Motors
- 2 VIP passes to the Downtown Airpark 2014 Season from Tim Cable
- 8-10 ft. Gold Crown Deodora Tree installed from Garza’s Green Grass
- $200 Gift Certificate from Vapor World
- Steve Owens, Billy Sims, Sam Bradford and Jason White autographed football
from Jason White’s “Store Divided”
- $100 gives you a chance to win a 1959 Studebaker or a 1978 Corvette
It seemed like the worst was finally behind the Griders.
And then one day, Garrett woke up with a familiar feeling.
“He had been kind of not sleeping well at night, moaning, had some low-grade fevers,” Garrett’s mother Kristi Grider said. “A couple days later, he woke up limping and not able to walk. That’s when I decided to take him in.”
Kristi hoped Garrett had just slept in a strange position or tweaked a muscle while throwing the ball around. After all, Garrett’s physicians had for months been speaking the word cancer patients so desperately long to hear: remission.
But doctors confirmed the family’s fear. The neuroblastoma that Garrett had seemingly defeated was again thriving.
Frequent visits to pediatric oncologists would again interfere with school for Garrett and his 12-year-old sister Kelsey. Instead of looking forward to hours in a batting cage, Garrett had to prepare for spending several days alone in a lead-padded room after sustaining toxic doses of radiation from Metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) therapy.
But the Griders soon learned they were not alone in their fight.
Once word spread that Garrett’s cancer had returned, friends and family began rallying around the Griders, and seemingly everywhere Garrett went, people wanted to help.
Steve Staggs’ car was running low on gas one Saturday morning last August.
Despite his loyalty to one particular gas station in his hometown of Norman, the former Major League Baseball player felt a sudden need to venture further up the street to fuel up.
Once he arrived at the station, something grabbed Staggs’ attention.
“While my car was getting filled up, I kept getting fixated on this car wash going on nearby,” Staggs said.
Soon a woman approached Staggs and told him the wash was to help raise money for a needy family. Unbeknownst to Staggs, it was a charity event arranged by Kelsey’s cheerleading team to help raise money for Garrett’s cause.
Staggs was typically cautious about who was allowed to handle his pristine BMW 750 but was overcome by a sensation that insisted he take part in the event.
“There was nothing that was going to keep me from getting my car washed,” Staggs said.
As water began to roll over the hood of his car, he began to consider how much money would make for a proper donation. Again, Staggs’ hand was forced by what he believes was a higher power as he exited his car, approached a nearby table and offered all $25 he had in his wallet. In return, he was given another piece of the puzzle he felt helplessly assigned to solve: a baseball card depicting a young boy.
Staggs was unable to read the card without his glasses, but something pressed him to do more.
“I get into my car, start to drive away and instantly start bawling like a baby,” Staggs said. “I’m just overcome with a sense of compassion for whatever was going on. And I have no idea what it is because I haven’t talked (about the details) with anybody.”
After a quick call to his wife, Staggs drove to the nearest ATM, withdrew a substantial amount of money and went back to the car wash, where he made a second donation. It was then that he learned of the Griders’ situation and Garrett’s love of baseball, particularly the Texas Rangers.
Staggs saw another opportunity to make an impact. He thought: “Whatever is going on here, the good Lord is wanting to give to this young boy something he could not create for himself.”
Within days, Staggs contacted a former teammate from his days in the Kansas City Royals organization, current Rangers manager Ron Washington. Staggs sent Washington a picture of Garrett’s baseball card and explained the boy’s predicament.
Sure enough, the Rangers manager delivered.
When the family arrived, Garrett was given a care package blistering with Rangers keepsakes and passes that granted access to most every crevice of the ballpark.
Throughout the evening, he was welcomed as one of the guys among the Rangers, trading his own autographed baseball cards for those of the players. Before the game, Rangers pitcher Derek Holland broke his ritual of not speaking to fans or media before starts to spend time with Garrett and his father, Trey Grider, and outfielder Alex Rios spent a good portion of his warmup posing for pictures and talking with the boy.
Immediately after throwing a round of batting practice, Washington rushed up to Garrett, introduced himself and immediately herded the rest of his team together to meet the boy and his family.
Garrett was overjoyed.
Coincidentally, the Rangers’ spirits were also lifted on the same night Garrett’s were. They beat the Houston Astros 12-0 with Rios hitting for the cycle and Holland pitching a complete game shutout.
The Rangers went on to win their next six games – the final six of the season – to force a one-game tiebreaker with Tampa Bay for an American League playoff spot.
Staggs believes that was no fluke.
“I don’t know if the Rangers would ever connect any of this to their year-end run,” Staggs said.”But I certainly do.”
Before becoming close friends with the Griders, P.J. James experienced Neuroblastoma firsthand when his nephew, Cody Brown, lost his life to the disease at age 8.
The efforts his young nephew made to promote awareness for children similarly affected by cancer always stuck with James.
“He gave Bob Stoops a little gold childhood cancer awareness pin,” James said. “About two months later (Stoops) came back to see Cody and one of the first things Cody said to him was, ‘Where’s your pin?’ and Coach Stoops said, ‘Well, it’s in my desk at work.’ And Cody said, ‘Well, I didn’t give it to you to put in your desk. I gave it to you to wear.’
“And now, you’ll notice every time Stoops puts on his white visor, he’s got that gold pin on.”
When he heard Garrett was battling the same condition to which his nephew succumbed, James knew he had to do something big.
“There were a couple of little fund raising things — a car wash and other things — and I kept thinking, ‘What can I do? What can I do?’ and nothing really seemed to hit me,” James said. “And then I was sitting (in my office with some employees) and I was like, ‘What if we could just could create a bigger deal?’”
And with that thought, James set out to organize the single largest fundraiser for Garrett and his family. He would organize a raffle with the grand prize being the choice of a 1978 Corvette or a 1959 Studebaker Lark, two of the most prized vehicles at his south-side Blazer Motors dealership.
But in order to achieve his lofty goal of raising $50,000 through $100 donations, James would need something more than just casual word of mouth.
As luck would have it, James had an opportunity a year earlier to personally thank one of the men who had offered so much support to his late nephew when his son landed on the same tee-ball team as the son of former University of Oklahoma Sooners star and 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White.
“I told him ‘I need to tell you something about one of the best things you ever did — and it’s outside of football or OU or anything like that,” James said. “You met a young kid about ten years ago — ‘
“And before I could even say it, Jason said ‘Cody.’”
Not only did White remember James’ nephew, but he had been so moved by the experience that he jumped at the chance to offer his support when James came calling about Garrett a few months later.
“I had been blessed to be able to (give to Cody), and it’s no different in this situation,” White said. “They’re wanting to help the family out. Obviously their medical expenses and travel expenses and things are outrageous, so when he asked me, it was a no-brainer to help as much as I could and be a part of it.”
Much like James, White also lost a loved one to cancer when the disease took his mother’s life two years ago. The experience taught him the importance of even the simplest gestures.
“I got a firsthand experience in what it’s like to see a family member go through that,” White said. “I think it really just opened me up to try to do as much as I can to help out. When my mom was going through it, I could remember random people just coming by the house and saying hi to my mom. It would change her whole day.It made her smile and that meant a lot.”
With the help of White and several other local business owners, James shattered his goal for the February 22event, raising $50,000 in just three months. And while producing the event has required near-constant attention, James wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s been one of the best things for me, just knowing I was in a position to help in some way,” James said. “It’s always sort of a personal thing with me after losing my nephew.”
No single experience or amount of money can dictate whether or not Garrett overcomes his disease.
Most likely, the Griders will spend this year much like they’ve spent the majority of the past four – doing everything they can to keep their son alive.
Since they can remember, their lives have been dictated by cancer, their emotions manipulated by a series of remissions and relapses.
But people like Staggs and James have provided the family with a chance to find balance between fighting for their son’s life and maintaining some semblance of normalcy.
They’ve brought a silver lining to a colossal cloud.
“One thing that does encourage and keep me going is the endlessly positive things that have come out of this,” Trey Grider said. “You see it all over the place in the good things that have happened and the relationships we’ve made.”
And in return, friends and family, celebrities and strangers alike have been affected by their experiences with Garrett, more so than they could have ever imagined.
“It’s amazing the number of lives this boy has touched,” Staggs said.
George Darkow is a husband, father and journalist with a passion for sports. His work has been featured in a number of publications and on websites including TheAHL.com, ChicagoNow and Bleacher Report. Follow George on Twitter.