By Linda Collins
Fairborn Daily Herald
ENON — Special honored guest Barrett Fitzsimmons sported a timid smile as he and a group of family members gathered at Indian Valley Intermediate School on Sunday morning, Oct. 9 to help kick off the 18th Annual Enon 5K Run/Walk.
Each year, local runners and walkers of all ages take to the streets in the Village of Enon on the second Sunday in October to raise funds for young victims of childhood cancer. This year, 257 participants completed the 3.1-mile course to the cheers and applause of many supporters.
According to event organizers, the majority of the proceeds from the event will directly support the Springfield Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation, a non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to granting the wishes to children in Clark County with life-threatening diseases.
Whenever possible, immediate family members are included in the granting of the wish to maximize the joy and memories for the child. In addition, a small portion of the proceeds will benefit the Greenon High School cross-country team.
A number of runners and walkers and all the members of the Fitzsimmons family donned bright blue T-shirts and hooded sweatshirts with red boxing gloves printed across the front along with the catchphrase “Barrett Strong!” The two-word slogan echoes Barrett’s courageous efforts as he battles childhood cancer.
The 7-year-old first grader at Northwestern Elementary School was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hepatocellular Carcinoma on May 26 after doctors discovered a mass on his liver during an ultrasound. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy at Dayton Children’s Medical Center. Barrett is the son of Brad and Lana Fitzsimmons and resides in Springfield with his parents and two younger sisters, Braelynn, 4, and Braydee, 3.
“No family should fight this battle alone,” said Anita Patton who, along with Tonya Roberds, spearheads the annual fundraiser. “That is why this community rallies each year to support children like Barrett who are battling life-threatening diseases.”
Following the run/walk, Barrett stepped up and presented the awards to the first, second and third-place winners overall and in each age category during the awards ceremony held in the school’s gymnasium.
According to Brad Fitzsimmons, Barrett has always had the drive of a true champion and continues to inspire all. As a kindergartener, Barrett displayed an outstanding aptitude in both academics and sports and received the physical education achievement award, an honor bestowed to only one boy and one girl in his kindergarten class.
“Barrett really enjoys school, and his best subject is math,” Brad said.
Throughout his young athletic career, Barrett has excelled in a number of sports and has received several accolades, including leading goal scorer on his soccer team during the last season. He also led his soccer team as they put the finishing touches on a 10-0 season this fall and went 4 for 4 during his last baseball game. Barrett also pursued a wrestling career last winter and ended his first season with a 14-3 record.
“What is even more remarkable is the fact that Barrett was battling cancer while fulfilling these accomplishments,” his father noted.
In fact, Barrett arrived to the run/walk Sunday morning with a football in his hand and began tossing the ball back and forth with his grandfather. When he heard about the children’s fun run, he quickly expressed his desires to participate and finished first in the race.
In June, Barrett gained national attention off the playing field when Michigan Football Coach Jim Harbaugh made a video for the 7-year-old while the coach was attending the Michigan team’s satellite camp in Springfield. In the video, which is posted on the “Barrett Strong!” Facebook page, Harbaugh told Barrett to “keep fighting, smiling, and the good Lord will take a liking to you.”
The coach also extended an invitation to the young Wolverine fan to visit Ann Arbor, Michigan and attend any home game of his choice. Harbaugh also signed a photo of him wearing the “Barrett Strong” T-shirt and gave Barrett the shirt and the hat he wore, and the whistle he used during his weeklong stay at the camp.
In September, Harbaugh made good on his promise and rolled out the red carpet for Barrett and his family during their two-day visit to Ann Arbor. Harbaugh also arranged for the family to tour Michigan Stadium and go onto the field.
“Barrett had a blast. We first met Coach Harbaugh in Schembechler Hall, and then we toured the stadium,” said Brad. “Barrett was so excited. He quickly ran onto the field and laid down in the grass.”
Fitzsimmons noted that Ohio State University Buckeyes Football Coach Urban Myer sent a picture and a signed “Barrett Strong!” T-shirt. Kansas University Wildcats running back Alex Barnes also paid Barrett a visit.
Recently, the Springfield Chapter of A Special Wish granted Barrett his special wish, which according to Patton, is a family trip to Florida.
“We have not told Barrett about it yet because we are going to surprise him and his sisters. We also have to schedule the trip around Barrett’s treatments. Everything is going as well as well as can be, and we’re very hopeful we’re on the right path,” Brad said. “We are so proud of Barrett — and together, we are Barrett Strong!”
For more information about Barrett Fitzsimmons and his courageous journey, visit Barrett Strong Facebook page at www.gofundme.com.
Linda Collins is a freelance reporter for Greene County News.