Sometimes, we’re reminded about what really matters.
Sadly, it often happens from tragedy as was the case Tuesday morning when 15-year old Austin “Flash” Schroeder lost his courageous fight against brain cancer.
A community that had desperately hoped for a miracle is now coping with the devastation of losing somebody way too soon.
God must have wanted Austin by his side because how else can you explain it? How do you make sense out of something so cruel and unfair?
I had the privilege of meeting Austin last May at the unveiling of one of the Herky on Parade statues in downtown Iowa City. He was accompanied by his close friend, Patrick McCaffery, who is the son of Iowa men’s basketball coach Fran McCaffery and a cancer survivor.
Austin and Patrick had a special relationship as neighbors in Coralville. They shared a passion for sports, and of course, they both loved the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Cancer brought them closer together. It made them more than just friends. It made them soul mates because they faced the same fears and uncertainties as naïve teenagers.
They relied on each other for comfort and support. When one was feeling down, the other would pick him up.
I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and suffering that Patrick must be feeling now. I’m 51-years old and still haven’t lost a close friend or a family member to cancer, or to anything for that matter.
Patrick has plenty of support from his family and friends, but the void caused by Austin’s death will be there forever.
The last time I saw Austin was when he accompanied Patrick to an Iowa basketball game late this past season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Austin was wrapped in a blanket and confined to a wheelchair.
You could tell that cancer was winning, but not enough to make Austin surrender.
I remember leaving the arena that night in tears, looking up to the chilly sky and asking why stuff like this happens.
Austin was diagnosed with stage three non-Hodgkin Lymphoma about a week after returning from a family vacation in Mexico last spring. Patrick McCaffery learned that he had a malignant tumor on his thyroid at approximately the same time.
They were in this fight together, but cancer is unpredictable. Why it chose to ravage Austin’s body, while Patrick is now in recovery is one of life’s mysteries.
Austin was a talented athlete before cancer started destroying his body. He earned his nickname "Flash" because of his athletic prowess.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Austin’s family. Hopefully, they can take some comfort in knowing that Heaven just welcomed a true warrior in their son.
His parents can be proud of how Austin inspired a community with his courage, his grit and his sense of humor.
Austin’s courage is displayed on his Twitter profile that reads: I am 15 years old. I go to Iowa City West High. I like basketball and baseball. GOING TO KICK CANCERS BUTT!!!
His fight against cancer prevented Austin from attending West High because of his treatment schedule. He still was a huge part of the school, though. He inspired students, not just at West High, but everywhere he went.
West High awarded Austin with a varsity letter and the “Pursuing Victory” honor at a ceremony in March.
The Williamsburg boys basketball team paid tribute to him by wearing “Fight With Flash” shirts this past season. Austin attended a Williamsburg practice in early March and delivered a strong message about making the most out of each day.
Austin also inspired student-athletes from the University of Iowa with his courage and determination. Many of them expressed their sorrow on Twitter after learning that he had died.
“Only had the honor of meeting him once, but Austin Schroeder was the strongest kid I’ve ever met. Rest easy up there,” Iowa baseball player Jimmy Frankos said on Twitter.
Former Iowa softball coach Gayle Blevins also paid her respects on Twitter.
“Did you notice sky is brighter today? Earth lost a special son . . . heavens gained a bright star. Austin Flash Schroeder,” Blevins said on Twitter.
Austin’s influence stretched far beyond the Iowa City area. One of his biggest admirers was ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, who has dedicated much of his life to raising money to fight cancer. Vitale tweeted a picture on Tuesday that shows him standing between Austin and Patrick McCaffery with his arms wrapped around both kids.
Austin’s death puts everything in perspective because it reminds us about what really matters in the big picture.
Austin showed that it’s not how long you live that defines a person, but rather how you live each day.