By CHRIS MARKHAM
To say that many people take the gift of life for granted would be a gross understatement. Not often enough do we sit down to appreciate all we have, especially our health. Oftentimes, it is the individuals in the world who have been stripped of this gift that are the only ones who can truly cherish it.
In the world of sports, this idea could not be more apparent, and for 19-year-old Wesley Berry, the lesson could not hit deeper.
At the beginning of the 2014 fall semester at the University of Mary Washington, the athletic department held a “Welcome Back” night for its student-athletes, featuring guest speakers, videos and a ceremonious speech given by Athletic Director Ken Tyler on the department’s goals for the year. However, none of these were the highlight of the night.
It was a young man veiled in UMW gear that stole the show. A young man who seven years prior, in June of 2007, learned he had a brain tumor. Just a year after the detection, another routine MRI in 2008 revealed a second brain tumor. In the following months, Wesley underwent a series of radiation treatments, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Since then, the King George County-native has been in and out of the hospital receiving treatment for his cancer.
As time wore on, support for Wesley grew exponentially while word of his condition spread. It eventually reached the ears of UMW senior tennis star Tyler Carey.
“My dad heard about [Friends of Jaclyn] so then he told me to look into it,” Carey said. “About a year ago I signed up, and over the summer I got a call from a lady saying they had a kid interested.”
Through the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, which links high school and college sports teams with children battling brain tumors, Carey connected with the young man who would have a huge impact on his life, as well as the rest of UMW athletics.
“I completely give [Tyler] all of the credit in reaching out to this organization, to Wesley’s parents and creating this bond and relationship he was with Wesley,” said Philip Pierce, director of athletic development at UMW. “It’s truly inspiring and one demonstration to show the community, the faculty and staff and administration just how inspirational and dedicated the students here can be.”
Through his selfless act, Carey sparked a movement within the rest of the UMW athletic department, a movement in which all sports teams joined Carey’s efforts in supporting Wesley and his family.
“If you look at the website it has lists of hundreds of individual sports teams that have adopted a kid and I thought we could offer him a lot more than just what my tennis team could offer him,” Carey said. “Not that we wouldn’t do a good job, but having 500 [student-athletes] involved rather than 12, we can make him feel a heck of a lot more special.”
Carey’s vision came to life in front of all the student-athletes who filled the Anderson Center on Aug. 27 when Wesley officially became an Eagle. According to Carey, UMW is the first school in the country to have its entire athletic department adopt a kid through Friends of Jaclyn.
“To be able to bring everyone together and make him part of the family has been truly amazing for him in itself,” Carey said.
The Eagle support did not stop there. In early October, the campaign caught fire as all of the varsity teams at UMW took team photos with a sign, often autographed by members of team, that read “Win 4 Wesley.” The pictures were posted all over social media and sent to Wesley, who was in the hospital for weeks prior due to a seizure, along with team memorabilia from all programs.
“It was pretty cool to see the whole school come together all for one great reason,” Carey said.
The week of admiration and adornment culminated in Wesley’s release from the hospital and getting the okay to go home. Members of UMW athletics who sent Wesley their support saw his release as nothing short of a miracle.
“Call it a coincidence, call it whatever you want, I just thought that it was an amazing sign and expression of family, of encouragement, love, passion, and I was proud of our student-athletes for what they did, and I’m proud of Wesley for fighting like a champion,” Pierce said.
Due to the chemotherapy, Wesley’s body has been broken down to the point where it can no longer grow and develop. Although he is 19 years old, Wesley is not developed, but stayed to the level of a 12 year old. This underdevelopment keeps Wesley from being able to participate in the sports he loves. Golf, which is planned to arrive at UMW in the fall of 2016, is Wesley’s favorite sport, according to Carey.
“You don’t realize how thankful you are,” Carey said. “We’re in college, we’re on sports teams, we get to do all those kinds of things, and he’s been battling brain cancer since he was 12. Everything you do makes you think about him. It’s life changing in that sense and it makes you more grateful.”
UMW is working with Wesley and his family to set up “Wesley Berry Day” for a basketball game in February in order to raise money for his family and Friends of Jaclyn.