CHARLIE'S CHAMPIONS: Local boy faces the fight of his life

You don't have to win a game to be a champion... Charlie Smart already has hundreds of champions.

Posted: Jan 14, 2018 8:34 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2018 1:21 AM

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — "Be grateful. Live life."

That's the advice from eighth-grader Charlie Smart to anyone reading this story.

Somtimes one moment can define a lifetime.

"I think I said, 'I have some bad news,' and said it. I remember not believing what I was saying," said Julie Smart, while thinking back to a moment in early December.

Good or bad, though, a champion is never defeated.

Charlie Smart, Julie's son, is a shooting guard on Tecumseh Junior High School's basketball team.

"[He's] definitely an outside shooter, a good ball-handler. He's good at breaking my ankles, as he says," explained Charlie's father, Joe Smart.

Charlie doesn't get to spend much time with the basketball team, now though; after recently coming down sick.

"Stomach pains, migraines non-stop. I couldn't do my work. That's really it. I couldn't pay attention," recalled Charlie.

At first his family thought it could be a cold or even the flu.

"He was like, 'I'm starving, but I can't get myself to eat," explained Charlie's sister Lucy.

At one of Charlie's basketball games in late November, however, they realized the illness was something more serious.

"He was slower than everyone else to get up and down the court each time," explained his mother. "I did notice him pulling at his side. Everything about that night was not typical.

"A couple games, he asked to come out early, which I thought was surprising," explained Charlie's basketball coach, Mark Roberts. "But now that I look back on it, it could be that this disease was wearing on him."

Just days later, Charlie was diagnosed with "ALL T-Cell" — Leukemia; and a rare form, at that.

Looking back on the moment of the diagnosis, Charlie said, "I was in shock. They saw me. I kind of just sat there and stared."

"In the United States, there are about 2,500 to 3,000 children each year who have Leukemia. The type that Charlie has; there has truly only been a handful over the past 30-40 years that have been identified like this," explained James Croop, a Pediatric Oncologist at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis.

It was a tough diagnosis to hear for the Smart family.

"It took a while for it to finally hit," recalled Julie.

The family spends more time focusing on the recovery, however, than the diagnosis.

"It's been amazing how much support comes out of every angle," explained Joe.

 "Everybody is doing their best to support him in everything he's going through, just to make sure he gets through all this," said Charlies friend and teammate, Hayden Ritchie.

Rivals Lafayette Jeff and McCutcheon wore orange t-shirts at a girls basketball game to bring awareness to Charlie's illness.

The Indiana University basketball players and coaches signed a basketball and sent it to Charlie in the hospital.

A Facebook page dedicated to updating Charlie's condition has attracted nearly 800 followers (at time of publishing).
(LINK: Charlie's Champions -- Facebook)

The support goes on; as does Tecumseh's basketball season, even without Charlie on the court.

"It was always nice when he was around. He gave this team our vibe," explained Ritchie.

Charlie still does that, though, whether he knows it or not.

Ritchie continued, "Every game we [play] is for Charlie."

He now spends most of his time at Riley Children's Hospital, taking his best shot - both with a basketball, and at cancer.

"He's definitely my hero right now - Charlie is - just the way he's handled this has been amazing to me," explained Charlie's father.

One thing a hero always has is hope.

"The hope is that we're going to be able to make the Leukemia go away completely and never come back," explained Croop.

If it really is moments that define us, Charlie's defining moment is not the diagnosis. It's the victory he's fighting for.

You don't need victory, though, to be a champion.

Charlie Smart already has hundreds of champions.

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