It was a steamy southern Louisiana summer day; little boys and girls were performing flips, cannon balls and side twists into the pool. The smell of sun block and chlorine was in the air as parents laughed and kids yelled. Everything was normal, until 10-year-old Marik Tucker came limping out of the pool. “Mom, I want to go home now. I just hurt my leg,” he said to his mother Kelli. That was the last time Marik would ever jump off the diving board.
After the family transferred from Louisiana to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Conn., Marik and his family learned that he had a rare bone cancer known as osteosarcoma. Ten months later, cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy men’s soccer team in New London, Conn., “adopted” Marik after contacting Kelli through Team Impact, a program that matches sick kids with college athletic teams to provide a diversion from their medical realities and cultivate relationships.
In November 2012, his right leg was amputated to cut off cancer cells from spreading through his body. Since then, he has undergone chemotherapy at the Yale Cancer Center in New Haven, Conn., where he lives three weeks of the month. He meets with a tutor between treatments and takes up to 25 pills a day. Life is tough for Marik. He went from riding bikes, playing soccer and tubing on the river to instantly becoming immobile. He misses having friends and people to talk to. “Another cancer mom referred me to Team Impact,” said Kelli. “She thought that Marik would love to be paired with an athletic team because he loves sports so much.” In March, Second Class Cadet Carlos Gonzalez, Fourth Class Cadet Richard Burns and their coach personally visited Marik and his family to present Marik with a signed Coast Guard dress hat and t-shirt. “He was so excited,” said Kelli. “After they left, he was so joyful. He wanted to take pictures to show everyone the cover they brought him. He had so much energy after they left, that he walked…by himself, about 50 yards to a little play area near our home. He had never done that before! He was exhausted, but he definitely got the motivation from the excitement of the visit.” It wasn’t hard for the cadets to embrace Marik as an honorary team member. “There was no doubt in any of our minds that adopting Marik was not only the right thing to do, but that there was no other option,” said Gonzalez. “Helping out Marik is something bigger than our soccer season or even our academics, I think. We have a responsibility to help those less fortunate and we should be grateful for any opportunity to do so.”
It makes Marik feel special that he gets this opportunity to be part of an amazing team, said Kelli. She’d also like to see the soccer team learn from Marik. “I hope that the team learns some valuable lessons about humility, strength and perseverance,” said Kelli. When Marik learned about his impending leg amputation, he took it like a champ, said Kelli. He seemed to see the silver lining and looked forward to getting his prosthesis. “With Marik joining our team, we would really like to help him grow as a young man and do everything we can to aide in his rehabilitation process,” said Gonzalez. “Prior to his amputation, Marik used to love playing soccer and we want to help him re-learn that given talent of his.” Marik’s name means “warlike” which is exactly how Kelli and Gonzalez describe him: brave, resilient and powerful. Marik’s active treatment is now in sight, though the battle rages on, said Kelli. He will continue to have monthly scans to ensure that if the cancer returns it will be caught and treated early enough to save his life.