Since being diagnosed with testicular cancer on July 31, Park Hill High junior Nick Hibbeler has endured 30 rounds of chemotherapy, four surgeries and six procedures to remove 52 pounds of fluid in his stomach.
His optimism during it all provided an inspiration to his soccer teammates and classmates, who ignited a “Fight Like Hibbs” campaign last fall, complete with T-shirts and bracelets.
Hibbeler found his own inspiration this week in another high school athlete’s fight. While combing through a list of his competitors in the“USA Today High School Sports Most Inspirational Athlete” contest
, Hibbeler stumbled across the story of Dominique Cooks, an 18-year-old student from Federal Way, Wash., whose athletic career was ripped away by an inoperable brain tumor.
Hibbeler wanted to help.
After being voted into the final round of the USA Today contest, he announced on Thursday that he is forfeiting his spot in the competition and allowing Cooks to participate in the final round instead.
“This guy’s incredible. He has an amazing story, and he’s an inspiration,” Hibbeler said. “What I’ve been through, it’s really been a lot, but Dom really deserves to keep going more than I do. I want everyone to vote for Dom.”
Hibbeler, who turned 17 last week, edged Cooks for the final wild-card spot in the 10-candidate final round. In giving up his bid, Hibbeler forfeited the chance to be featured in the national publication and see a $1,000 donation bestowed to his school in his name.
The financial reward was made up, however, when Krueger James Insurance Agency announced Thursday afternoon that it will write the $1,000 check to Park Hill High and also donate $500 to Check 2, a testicular cancer-awareness campaign Hibbeler launched this winter. The program encourages athletes to perform regular self-exams in hopes of early detection.
“As a cancer survivor myself, this kid is a great inspiration to anybody and everybody,” said Deena James, president of Kansas City-based Krueger James. “We’re honored to be able to do this and glad (he) asked.”
Hibbeler, who is now cancer free, used sports as a motivational tool during his battle with the disease. He continued to play soccer between chemotherapy sessions, once only three days after five consecutive eight-hour treatments.
While Cooks was forced to quit the Decatur High School football and basketball teams after the discovery of his brain tumor, he continued to roam the sideline during games. The school held a special graduation ceremony for Cooks in February, principal David Brower said.
Cooks’ condition has worsened recently and he’s now in the hospital, said Brower, who visited Cooks on Wednesday and informed him of Hibbeler’s decision.
“His eyes lit up,” Brower said. “He said it was humbling. He said the support is motivating him to keep fighting.”
Hibbeler said he came to the decision to forfeit his spot when he read a quote from Cooks, who was asked to write what he is thankful for.
“My tumor,” Cooks wrote. “For teaching me how to fight.”
The voting for the final round of the Most Inspirational Athlete contest began Thursday and closes Tuesday. Cooks opened with a slight lead on Thurday over his nine competitors.
“I’ve had a pretty tough time, and I’ve been depressed,” Hibbeler said. “But I can look forward because there’s some people like Dom that have it worse. That really, really inspires me.”
Hibbeler, meanwhile, has experienced some complications following his surgeries to remove cancerous tumors from his body.
A combination of his proteins, fats and lymphocytes continues to congregate in his stomach.
The latest procedure to remove built-up fluid from his stomach was done on Thursday just hours before his announcement.
“The biggest thing is I’m cancer free,” Hibbeler said. “It’s been hard though, because I beat cancer, and I’m ready to move on from it, forget about it and look forward in life.”