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Ravenna's Andrew Spiker beats cancer, nets soccer dreams

By Tom Nader Sports Editor Published: September 27, 2017 4:00 AM
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January 8, 2013.

It was a Tuesday.

And it changed Andrew Spiker's life forever.

It was the day, sitting in a room inside Akron Children's Hospital, that he was officially diagnosed with leukemia.

Spiker was a seventh-grader at Brown Middle School in Ravenna whose life was thrusted into as much adversity that many live their entire lives avoiding.

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Difficult doctor's appointments followed, as did conversations with his parents Greg and Theresa, but Spiker said his mind continually returned him to the same thought.

"I just want to be a normal kid," he said.

It was not Spiker's way of wondering why him and why now, but instead it was his perspective of not wanting his illness to have people treat him differently.

The whirlwind of it all suddenly slowed down for Spiker when he realized that he was going to lose his hair.

"That is when I knew that this was real," Spiker said.

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Real indeed, but not the end.

Three years of grueling chemotherapy treatments completely drained him of energy and plundered his health.

That was the physical toll.

Inside, Spiker, who is now a senior at Ravenna, fought to keep his life as ordinary as possible.

He didn't like talking about cancer and still doesn't. He is bright teenager with a sparkling sense of humor. And he has emerged as a leader, but at the core, he is a thinker. A bit more quiet and reserved.

Part of his process to maintain normalcy was to never walk away from the sport he loves most: Soccer.

"I have been playing soccer my whole life. There were times that quitting maybe snuck into my head, but only for a second," Spiker said. "My teammates were great at lifting my spirits and motivating me. I never wanted to find an excuse not to play."

Spiker's sheer determination to remain a Ravenna soccer player became part of his identity.

On mornings when Spiker had chemo treatments, spinal taps or other procedures that would leave his body void of energy, his parents would send emails to head coach Matt Wunderle to let him know that their son still wanted to play at that night's game.

"Andrew is a man that has a desire to play soccer and be a part of our team. He was willing to go through whatever he had to go through to do it. It's inspiring, really," Wunderle said.

Surely, there were setbacks.

Spiker's endurance dissipated, his strength faltered, his growth stunted and his confidence was shaken.

His heart?

Untouched.

Never broken.

Pure as gold and strong as steel.

Wunderle experienced this firsthand during a JV game when Spiker was a freshman.

"We had a corner kick and the ball found its way into the box," Wunderle remembered. "Andrew was right in the middle of it all and when he jumped for the ball, so did a player on the other team and they collided. Andrew crashed into the net and it cut into his face. His face and lips were bleeding, and he jogged toward the sideline.

"Right away, I asked him if he was OK. He looked at me, blinked, and said, 'Yeah, I am ready to go back out whenever you need me'."

Spiker spent that entire freshman season, as well as his sophomore season, balancing cancer treatment and soccer.

May 13, 2016.

It was a Friday.

And it changed Andrew Spiker's life forever.

It was the day, sitting in a room inside Akron Children's Hospital, that he was officially declared cancer free.

Lifesaving news that brought joy and relief.

And an opportunity for Spiker to play his final two years of high school soccer as the player he had been.

Cancer holds tight, though, and Spiker's shot at making the Ravens' varsity was delayed.

"Physically, he just wasn't there yet," Wunderle said. "Andrew is a relentless worker. Nobody works harder, but I wanted him to get his stamina back. I didn't want to rush him into a situation his body was not prepared for."

Spiker began working with a strength and conditioning coach multiple times a week and Wunderle said there have been times he drove up to the stadium only to find Spiker out working on the field by himself.

Wunderle was not the only person who had been watching.

Prior to the start of the 2017 season, Spiker's senior year, his peers voted him a team captain.

"There is no doubt that they recognized his leadership and work ethic," Wunderle said.

An honor Spiker earned. Just the same, he earned a starter's role as a forward.

the starting forward role from Wunderle.

He earned it, just as Wunderle said Spiker earned his spot on the Ravens' varsity roster this season as a starting forward.

"Andrew has been an amazing part of our team," Wunderle said. "He committed to us a long time again, and we told him that we are committed to him."

August 24, 2017.

It was a Thursday.

One thousand, six hundred eighty nine days since Jan. 8, 2013.

A date that was highlighted by a career moment for Spiker when he netted his first career varsity goal in a game against Poland Seminary.

"That goal was the culmination of years of hard work and determination," Wunderle said.

Hard work that Spiker believes he doesn't deserve any special credit for.

"It feels good that I am recognized as a hard worker, but I never wanted to be treated any differently" Spiker said. "I feel like showing up and working hard is what I am supposed to do, so I don't think I should get attention for doing something I am supposed to do."

Spearheaded by Wunderle, with the approval of Spiker's parents, the Ravenna boys soccer team hosted a cancer awareness event on Tuesday to honor Spiker called "Gold for the Goal" at their home game against Cloverleaf. The Ravens wore gold shoelaces as an act to raise awareness of pediatric cancer, while the team made a donation to Akron Children's Hospital and presented Spiker with a "Never Walk Alone" team photo banner.

Wunderle approached Spiker about the idea of speaking to the audience before the game, but Spiker's response was one Wunderle expected.

"I asked, and he said, 'No thank you, coach, it is just another normal day. I just want to play the game'."

That's all he has ever wanted to do.


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