FOUNTAIN INN—Being a champion has nothing to do with never falling, it has to do with how well you get up after the fall.
John Hawkins, 18, is one of those champions.
His story of triumphant recovery recently earned him The Inspiration award, presented by the National Guard. He was nominated by a national organization of reporters who scour stories about athletes overcoming insurmountable odds.
John credits his recovery from a near-fatal illness to lots of people—his family, his school and church community at St. Joseph’s Catholic and St. Mary Magdalene, even strangers who prayed for him from all over the world.
But a key player in his recovery was John himself, through faith and determination.
In eighth grade, John’s baseball skills earned him a starting spot on the varsity team at St. Joseph’s Catholic School. But that summer found the youth unusually tired and suffering extreme back pain, said his mom, Dawn Hawkins. Doctors found hairline fractures in his back and put him in an upper-body cast, but the pain continued, followed by mysterious bruising.
Eventually, a dreaded diagnosis was confirmed: John had Stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“It was devastating,” Mrs. Hawkins said. “He was always so healthy. It was the last thing in the world we’d ever expected.”
Stage IV is the most severe, with cancer cells forming on organs and tissues.
But John never thought “what if.”
“I never really thought of it as something that was life threatening,” he said. “I just thought, ‘Oh, I’m sick. I have to take steps to get better.’”
That attitude helped. So did his concern for his family, which includes his mom, his dad Andre, and his sister Lauren.
“I hated it when they were upset,” he said, so he tried hard to remain positive and upbeat.
John battled for two years, through two rounds of chemo and radiation, and two relapses. The family resorted to an autologous stem cell transplant, which uses cells from one’s own body instead of a donor.
John was in the hospital for 25 days, and it took a toll. Not a big guy to start with, he lost about 60 pounds. By now a high school sophomore, he was down to 95 pounds. He was so weak he could only walk a few steps — but he got up. And the toll paid off; his cancer was in remission. That summer, he started the long, difficult road to recuperation.
By the time baseball tryouts rolled around his junior year, he was ready. John reclaimed his starting position at second base and posted an impressive .480 batting average. For the next two years, John helped lead his team to back-to-back state championships.
JB Barwick, John’s high school baseball coach, said he was a typical kid in a lot of ways, but his hard work and determination stood out.
“Anybody who goes through any kind of adversity, it’s always interesting to see how they get up,” Barwick said. “John was always trying to improve, to get stronger and faster.”
He’s still doing that. His cancer is in remission, but John said he never takes his health for granted.
Currently a freshman at the University of South Carolina, he’s thinking about a future in the world of sports management.
For now, he’s enjoying the gift God has given him and is moving forward with confidence.
He’s playing club ball for USC, is part of his sister’s upcoming wedding celebration, and plans to try out for Carolina’s baseball team next year.
“It makes you appreciate what you have in this life because you never know when it’s going to end,” he said.
Read more about Catholics like you by subscribing to The Catholic Miscellany