Elijah Rios' Winning Speech 

People say, ‘You’re an inspiration” and “I look up to you, you’re so strong,” but really sometimes, I just want to breakdown and cry. I am rather bewildered that some people look at me as a role model. I am no stronger than any of you, I just think of myself as blessed.

When I was eight years old, a tragedy struck my family. It all started when I was playing soccer. There was a scramble for the ball, and all of a sudden I collapsed on the field. The referee thought that someone hit me, or I somehow got injured. He blew his whistle to signal the players to stop. My mom took me to Urgent Care, where we were told I was probably just dehydrated.

A week went by and I went to my next soccer game – and strangely the same thing happened again. I tried to get up and crawl off the field, but had to be carried off instead. After my pediatrician examined me, he told my mom to take me immediately to Loma Linda Children’s Hospital. There, they performed an MRI and found that I had a brain tumor. That’s when my life changed, … as well as my family’s.   … Things would never be the same for any of us.

The next day I underwent an eight hour brain surgery. The doctor said that when he first touched the tumor my heart rate dropped. He was only going to try one more time and if he couldn’t get it … well then I wouldn’t be here right now. It was a miracle that he was able to remove it. The results were a rare tumor called Anaplastic Ependymoma. It was in the fourth ventricle of the cerebellum, which controls your balance as well as  your motor skills. Later the dreadful word that no one wants to hear came … cancer. “The Big C.” …“Elijah, you have brain cancer.” … That devastated us all. A week later to complicate things even more, I contracted meningitis. I had to go on steroids and have six weeks of radiation therapy. The side effect from all this, was that I forgot how to use my hands, swallow, talk, walk, or even breathe.

As time went on, I did get better, but then two years passed and another challenge occurred. I was diagnosed with a tumor in my lower spine. This sent me into a deep depression, and I was put on anti-depressants. I felt like – WOW – everything I loved to do was gone and I had nothing else to live for except my family. I could no longer play soccer and other sports, and didn’t feel like a normal boy my age. I underwent surgery for the second time … and it was a success.

Nine years have passed, and I am now in my senior year of high school. It was important to me to get back to school and be among my classmates. I had been told I would not graduate with a diploma; at best I would get a certificate. Well, I am standing here today, to let you know that I passed both of the CAHSEE tests. I have more than enough credits to graduate with a high school diploma … and I will be attending college hopefully to someday be a veterinarian. The teachers, counselors, nurses, and administration of Murrieta Mesa have been more than compassionate. They saw that I was determined not to give up and helped me achieve my academic goals.

Lance Armstrong has been my biggest inspiration. The reason I like Lance Armstrong is that even though he was diagnosed with cancer in three different places of his body … not at all did he give up. Sure he must have felt devastated that he could no longer ride, yet he didn’t let that little bump in the road discourage him. He had taken a chance –
“a leap of faith” and with that jump he won the Tour de France five times in a row. He will always be my hero.  He has encouraged me to keep fighting for my life and not be afraid to take chances  … (like applying for scholarships and asking a girl on a date).

I have done some research on the type of tumor I had, Anaplastic Ependymoma … and the survival rate is only 0.9%. That is not even a full percent. Even though people may tell you that you cannot succeed, don’t listen to them, you can do anything you put your mind and heart to. No matter what obstacles life may bring your way, try to look for the good in it. Although, I don’t play soccer any longer, I picked up a new sport that I love … PAINTBALL … It’s what I do.

When I recently participated in a brain tumor walk, they called all the survivors up to the front. I looked around and there were only about 10 of us. I was the youngest one there. I am thankful to God for this Blessing to Be Alive today!

I am thankful for life, and I am thankful to my parents and sisters for taking care of me when I could not. Believe it or not I am also thankful for what has happened to me in the past. If it wasn’t for that; I wouldn’t be the person that I am today.