True greatness hinges on an athlete's reaction to adversity. Standing toe-to-toe with a roadblock means going through, not around.
2007 had its share of poignant moments. They all made us feel something—a jovial state, or a sense of disbelief.
The genuine moments tend to fall through the cracks—they don't come to mind immediately. It's typical to applaud the occasional upset (App. State over Michigan) or the dominant performance (LeBron in the playoffs).
But what about the moments that transcend the sport?
Jon Lester's story is anything but typical. For the Boston Red Sox hurler, managing balls and strikes was the easy part—life's curveball was the challenge.
Lester was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on September 1st, 2006. Setting aside medical jargon, Lester had cancer.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma is a type of blood cancer which is usually treatable. Lester was hospitalized to undergo chemotherapy.
Lester was considered the top prospect in the Red Sox organization. At Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Washington, he was named the top high school player in the state. Upon being called up, he became the first rookie in the history of the franchise to win his first five decisions.
The trouble began in Anaheim, when Lester took unusual amounts of time between pitches. His numbers began to balloon, and he was ultimately sidelined.
And so began the comeback—one step at a time.
Lester's health remained the focus, but his goal was to return to the mound.
After a sixth round of chemo, all evidence of cancer cells was gone. Although it'll be five years until Lester can be considered "cancer-free," his minor league rehab starts began immediately.
The Sox planned to take their time before handing Lester the ball on a big league mound, but the truly driven can only wait so long.
On July 23rd, 2007, with his teary eyed family in attendance, Jon Lester made his return to the Show against the Cleveland Indians. He pitched six innings, recorded six strikeouts, and picked up the win.
Prior to the game, Lester was greeted by his teammates smiles—ear to ear.
"He's definitely an inspiration to all of us," said closer Jonathon Papelbon. "We all go through ups and downs in life, and he went through a really big down in life and was able to fight through it and come back."
Athletes accomplish feats in the glow of the spotlight—but fighters rise up in the darkest of moments.