by John Whitaker
[Editor’s note: Everyone runs for a reason. Often those reasons are bigger than themselves. When we met John Whitaker in Glen Rose Texas, we knew he was special. Positive, upbeat, an easy smile he was an inspirational presence with an undeniable mission. He had a story to tell and hearing it left us wanting to carry on that mission and tell the story of a remarkable boy and how his life exemplified the Spartan spirit and how his legacy embodies the indomitable will to keep on fighting despite the odds.]
At 42, I find myself in a life that I never anticipated. I am married to Tracy, who is a wonderful wife and amazing mother. We have been blessed with 2 incredible kids. My oldest child, a blue eyed tow head blonde boy – Mitchell – came roaring into our life in May 0f 1997. Our second, an amazing little fireball redhead, Meredith, followed 2 years later. American dream – good wife, 2 kids, good job, great friends, picket fences (you know the drill).
In August of 2005, at age 8, Mitchell is diagnosed with leukemia. Our lives changed drastically….and in many ways became quite simple. Live one more day. Fight through another obstacle. Provide fuel to the confidence and willpower of my son so that he can fight and thrive during treatment. Carry the weight of a mother who fears for the future. Carry the weight of a daughter who wonders why this is happening and when she will get her best friend back. Pray to the Lord for strength, wisdom, and courage enough to carry me through the dark hours because Mitchell knows that if his dad says everything is going to be alright…then dad will find a way to make it happen regardless of whatever obstacles come in our way.
I was equipped, by Providence and Faith, to use “this present suffering” to encourage others that followed our journey as I was encouraging my own. I didn’t want the job, but it was my “water to carry”. Isn’t that just like life? We will always be presented with opportunities to grow in circumstances outside of our control.
Tracy and I were blessed to witness Mitchell display his toughness in the face of adversity. We watched him excel under trying circumstances athletically, academically, and spiritually. He was an incredible athlete and thrived on competition.
At age 10, after 2 years of showing up every day to stand and deliver in the face of adversity, my heir, my name, my legacy passed from this life to the next as I stood by his bedside with an arm around Tracy and a hand on his cheek. Mitchell was a warrior in every sense of the word. He was the fiercest competitor and possessed the strongest will that I have ever seen.
During his last days, whenever Tracy and I had to make the decision to let him go, we would spend hours by his bedside whispering in his ear and telling him how proud that we were of his life, explaining how wonderful heaven was going to be, and that it was ok for him to rest. Mitchell wanted to become a doctor to find a cure for his disease, but he never got that opportunity.
During one of these quiet times, as I was holding his face close to mine, listening to the shallow rise/fall of his sedated chest and outlining this face with my hands he awoke, after being unconscious for 2 days. He opened up those amazing blue eyes, and very clearly said: “KEEP FIGHTING.” He closed his eyes and died 3 days later. Those were the last words that he ever spoke in this world.
Spartan warrior spirit? He embodied it. He lived it. His life rallies others to do the same. Since his passing, my entire life has changed. My best friend and son, gone. Many dark days have passed by my door the last 4 years and on those days when I want to just pack it in, I am harkened back to the last words of Mitchell and the strength that my Heavenly Father has seen fit to provide.
In Mitchells honor, Tracy and I started the GoMitchGo Foundation to raise awareness and funds for families battling blood cancers. Our personal goal is raise $1 million dollars in Mitchell’s honor. Let the following facts sink in for a moment:
· Every 4 minutes a new diagnosis for a blood related cancer.
· Every 10 minutes, a patient dies from battling these diseases.
· Leukemia causes more deaths than any other cancer among children and young adults under the age of 25.
In the time that Hobie Call blazes through a Super Spartan, seven young people die from blood and bone cancer diseases. Eleven are forced into the battle of their lives during that same time span. Blood and bone cancers are killing our children and NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT IT. Nothing moves me greater than those willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves. To date, Mitchell’s story has inspired people to raise nearly $475,000 dollars for blood cancer research.
I run Spartan & other endurance races as a way to honor Mitchell’s athletic talent, competitive nature, and warrior spirit. I run to tell his story in the hopes that others will join our cause to stand and fight. Spartan Race is such an amazing, living, dirty, sweaty, painful, & accurate metaphor for life. There is only so much we can control in life and most powerful choice we make is to tackle our obstacles head on without hesitation, until we can go no further.
Mitchell would have been 15 on May 15, 2012. Spartan Race has agreed to honor Mitchell’s legacy with a special heat. Will you join me at 130pm on May 19th? The “Mitchell Whitaker – Keep Fighting” heat will be a perfect time to honor his legacy. Spartan has agreed to donate half the registration cost to the GoMitchGo Foundation to help fund blood cancer research. Come run for a cause greater than yourself and help save a life!
Live life ferociously, passionately, and for a cause greater than yourself…..because THAT is what being a Spartan is all about.
Keep Fighting! Aroo! Aroo! Aroo!
For more information on the GoMitchGo Foundation and our story click here:
To join the fight on race day, please register for the 1:30PM heat by going here and get registered: http://www.spartanrace.com/texas-obstacle-racing-spartan-sprint-2012.html