Mike White talks about the overwhelming feedback from his story about a high school senior battling cancer:
John Challis' story has gone national.
I wrote his inspiring story in the Post-Gazette this past Sunday. While I expected plenty of feedback because of the nature of the story, what has happened in the past week in the life of the Freedom High School senior football-baseball player who is dying from liver and lung cancer is truly unbelievable.
I have received literally hundreds of e-mails from people saying how John is inspiring and how John has affected their lives. One came from Iraq.
John was on Fox Sports Radio's Dan Patrick Show this morning. ESPN is coming to Freedom to do a SportsCenter story on him. ESPN The Magazine was at Freedom the other day. Radio stations from Los Angeles, Houston, Charlotte, Boston, Milwaukee and a few other cities have called either myself or the Challis family, wanting him on as a guest. A production company in New York that does stories for a television show in Japan wants to do a story on John.
ESPN sportscaster Scott Van Pelt had me on his national radio show Wednesday. He said he didn't think he could emotionally handle interviewing John on the air.
I received an email from an NBA player -- Matt Carroll of the Charlotte Bobcats -- about John. Then late yesterday afternoon, I received a phone call from Florida Marlins pitcher Mark Hendrickson, who called on his way to the park. The guy is tied for second in the National League for wins (5-1 record) and was pitching last night, but said he read John's story and was so moved that he wanted to see if there was any way he could speak with John. Hendrickson also offered to bring John and his family to Philadelphia for a weekend series later this month, just so John could hang out with the team.
John is touched by all the attention and simply keeps saying he is so grateful that his story can maybe help other people. Here are some of the emails I have received:
Dear Mr. White,
I am currently in the Navy and serving onboard USS Anzio, which is currently underway in the North Atlantic. While reading your story, I cried. I got angry. I laughed. This story was really moving and touching. When you are out to sea and stuck on a big gray ship and working long days and going through rough exercises and drills, you tend to forget about those who aren't on ship. This brought me back to reality and help me to remember that there are worse things than being stuck on a ship away from my family. At least when I come home at the end of the month, my family will be there. That might not necessarily be true for Mr. and Mrs. Challis.
Thank you and thank John Challis for reminding me to look at the cup as being half full and not half empty. If you talk to John Challis again, you can tell him that his message was heard loud and clear from the other side of the world. Thank you.
Troy D. Miller
It took me an unusually long time and quite a bit of tissues to read this article. Great job on the article, I obviously do not know John or anyone in the article but I think you captured the essence of the story for me. I am going to read this article again, only this time I will have my children on my lap as I read it out loud to them. Lucky for us they are healthy. Peace to you and your family and thanks for sharing John's story with everyone.
The Bray family
All I can say is that your article in today's newspaper is one of the most inspiring articles that a staff reporter at the Post-Gazette has ever written. This brought me to tears at Panera this morning, as I was reading it online. I plan on forwarding it to all of my friends and family. John's story is not only inspiring, it is moving. He is so strong, and he and his family will be in my thoughts and prayers for many years to come.
Ted Taylor IV
I have just finished reading your article on John Challis and it was honestly one of the most uplifting and inspiring stories my eyes have ever read.
Everybody who reads this story should truly take a lesson from John -- I know I have. I wish him the absolute best and I will definately keep him and his family in my prayers.
This was a fantastic article and truthfully brought tears to my eyes. John has made a profound impact on my life and I hope I can spread his message as best I can. I sent this article to a couple of my buddies as well who are also former WPIAL athletes. I'm sure they'll find the article just as touching as I did.
Your article with regard to the young man with cancer is well-written and an incredible tribute to this young man's desire to live and survive, in spite of a terrible and debilitating terminal illness. He inspires me to want to be a better person and I am 57 years old.
Just wanted to say that the story about John Challis was beautifully written. I think that you have helped him to fulfill his purpose of being an inspiration for others. He is right; we all waste too much time on negativity and sometimes it takes a story such as this to remind us of that. This is the type of story I like to read over and over again to remind myself of what is important in life. I have read a lot more PG sports stories this year due to my connection with a certain Serra Catholic football and basketball player, and we have all been bombarded with the Terrelle Pryor saga, but John Challis puts all of that into perspective. Thank you for this wonderful story.
I just read the amazing story of the young man with cancer who got to play his last baseball game; the story makes one feel so ashamed for ever complaining about anything in life. I cried so hard when reading this story and am still crying as I type this.
I drive a school bus and there are so many young kids who 'mess up' their lives and this young man will be a saint in heaven for all to admire, and I thank you for giving me yet another reason to be proud of the many young kids that never make the headlines unless they are in trouble. This young man's story should be made a special on TV.
Mrs. Dan (Gloria) Wineland
I recently read your story on John Challis and his struggle with cancer and was deeply touched. I thought you did an outstanding job of telling his story and conveying John's message about life. The story was truly an inspiration to me. I am a native Pittsburgher (Upper St. Clair class of 1999) and currently deployed to the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I am an Aircraft Commander in a Naval Aviation squadron out here and on our next mission I would like to fly a flag over Iraq in honor of John, and send it back home to Pittsburgh for him as a token of my appreciation. Thanks for doing such a great job of conveying John's amazing story,
Lt. Josh Lostetter
Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron TWO
I heard your interview on ESPN radio and just read your article. This kid is a hero, I choked back tears the whole way through especially when he said the only thing he was mad about was not being able to have a son and a home. I am lucky enough to just recently have both and I take it for granted. Puts things into perspective. My heart goes out to him and his family.
Don't ever take this article off the Post Gazette server, ever. It is now required reading for my children and their children. God bless you and God bless John Challis
J. Chris Dias
Fort Meade, Md.
I heard your interview with Scott Van Pelt on my way to the airport yesterday on ESPN radio and I became very interested in the story about John Challis. All I want to say is, "thank you", for writing about this young man. I'm sitting in my hotel room right now with tears in my eyes. I have two young sons who wouldn't understand this story but I'm going to remember it and share it with them when they get a bit older, about the value of a strong heart, strong mind and the courage this young man possesses.
I'm a last semester law student in Chicago who just took the best study break of my life. I'm an avid ESPN radio and Scott Van Pelt fan, so this evening I spent my study break listening to the Van Pelt show on espn.com, and I couldn't be happier that I did because had I not, I would not have been introduced to the John Challis story. I just wanted to thank you for writing the story. I'm sure that your inbox has been flooded with messages like these, but as my parents taught me, thank those who help you. I would like to thank you for giving me perspective through your literary talents, and more importantly, I would like to thank John for telling his remarkable story of courage. I agree with John that too much negativity exists today, sports sections across the country have turned into the step sibling of the National Enquirer, and I've heard too many times about how the higher the pedestal, the harder the fall. This story puts sports in its proper perspective, as a bonding and uplifting challenge experienced between teammates, coaches, and the community. Thank you again.
Thank you for writing such an inspirational story. This should be mandatory reading for every pro athlete, every amateur athlete, every child athlete, & every parent who gets caught up in thinking their child is the next superstar. It shows what is really important in life. It is truly a humbling story that will hopefully keep me grounded for a while. My 12 year son was ticked off about striking out three times in a game last night. I had him sit down and read this story. When he was finished he just gave me a little smile. I think he might get it now. Please let John know that his story is getting out there and helping to change lives. John Challis is truly an amazing person, and the kind of role model I want my two sons to look up too.