Coalville raises money from Summer Celebration to help Hayden Blonquist pay for leukemia treatment
On Saturday, North Summit High School rising senior Hayden Blonquist was feeling good, if a little awkward.
“It’s weird coming to events that are (benefiting) you,” he said. “But I like the support; it’s been very helpful.”
He stood at the starting gates of the 5K race and 1K walk at the Coalville City Summer Celebration, among more than 130 community members whose registration fees would be donated to Blonquist to help him pay for treating his leukemia.
Just behind him, plastic letters stood on hay bales reading “Attitude is Everything,” a quote attributed to Blonquist, and the hashtag #BeStrongHayden, which was popularized by the high school and printed on shirts that students wore after he was diagnosed in February.
It would be hard to tell, just by looking, that Blonquist is sick. He wore a hat, but had hair poking out from under it, and apart from walking somewhat slowly, he had little trouble getting around.
But getting to that point has been a long process.
“It’s been quite the ride,” he said. “We’ve had some ups and downs but overall, I can’t complain. I’ve been doing pretty well.”
Of course, “pretty well” means something different when you’re going through chemotherapy.
“There for a while, ‘pretty well’ was being able to get up and out of bed,” he said. “Now I’ve been able to stay active and eat whatever I want.”
His side effects have included pancreatitis (“that was really painful”), kidney stones, (“that was also really painful”) and steroid-induced diabetes (“That was only temporary but was kind of a pain”). He was also recently diagnosed with osteonecrosis, a disease where bone dies faster than it can be regrown due to an inadequate supply of blood.
“There is no cure for it, but your bones can heal,” he said. “I just have to wait that out. It can take years — usually years — so we will see how that goes.”
Blonquist started to notice something was wrong during last basketball season.
He had been having strep-like symptoms for a while, but early one Sunday morning his neck swelled visibly, and the Blonquists went to the hospital.
“I found out I had a mass (of lymph nodes) in my chest about the size of an apple, so we went to Primary and went from there,” he said.
The following Sunday, after doctors confirmed he had cancer, he started telling his basketball team what was going on. Doctors said he could no longer play, cutting short the shooting guard’s season.
Because of his osteonecrosis, he will sit out next season as well, and probably an undetermined number of seasons after high school, which has led Blonquist to reevaluate his plans.
Just six months ago, he was hoping to earn a basketball scholarship and attend an out-of-state college.
“Any place that would give me an offer to pay for school,” he said of his choices. “I wasn’t picky.”
Now he’s wondering if he should defer attending college until his bones heal, though he isn’t sold on the idea of being a 25 year-old college freshman.
In the meantime, he said his illness has shifted his focus. He still shoots around for fun, and does some limited weightlifting, but mostly, he said, he goes fishing.
“When you need help getting out of bed because you’re too weak to do that on your own, it definitely makes you appreciate the little things,” he said.
Some of those little things include the way people have helped his family, such as the efforts of his friend Brennen Richins.
“He was always plugging along, always just helping me and my mom out with little things,” Blonquist said, who then added that there were probably “a million people” that had helped his family.
“The whole community really,” he said.
On Sunday, his supporters included people like brothers Reed and Cash Robinson – old friends of Blonquist’s who had come down from Evanston, Wyoming, to run the race, and Ashlee Pace, owner of the Coalville franchise of Sign Gypsies, a family friend who had donated the signs to the race. There were also runners who were simply there to run, and family friends who were not interested in running but had shown up to support the Blonquists anyway.
Regardless of their relation, those that had met Hayden described him as dependable.
Aaron Preece, head coach of the North Summit Braves basketball team, said Blonquist was “someone that works hard and has earned what he does on the basketball court through his hard work.”
Coalville Mayor Trever Johnson said Blonquist “represents North Summit very well; has a lot of friends and comes from a really good family.”
Over the course of the Coalville City Summer Celebration, proceeds and donations from a softball game, a motorcycle poker run, and the race allowed Johnson to present the Blonquist family with an oversized check for $7,600.
Blonquist himself could not run the 5K, but he caught up with the 1K walkers.
Turning onto Main Street, racers passed in front of Blonquist’s quotes to finish.
Blonquist walked in front of the “Attitude is Everything” sign.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good, and I can’t complain,” he said, reflecting on his own attitude. “Might as well make the best of it.”
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