GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s a special season for the West Catholic Falcons. They’re 9-0 and ready for the playoffs, but what makes this team unique isn’t their record, it’s their motto: Radstrong.
Players and coaches have been wearing Radstrong shirts all season. The Rad in Radstrong is Jacob Radlinski. Who, before the summer, was looking forward to another busy year as a three-sport athlete.
“I had played all football season, all basketball season and track season got cut short during the conference meet,” he said.
A state qualifier in his sophomore year, Radlinski noticed his body was slowing down at the end of the season.
“I had a meet on Saturday and the day after I just felt really sick. My fever got higher to the point where I was super lightheaded and I could barely get up to walk to the bathroom,” he recalled. “I got to the ER, and we got a chest X-Ray. That’s how we found out there was a tumor.”
In a matter of weeks, he went from wearing conference medals to a hospital gown.
“I had multiple biopsy surgeries to find out what the tumor was, and what was causing everything,” Radlinski said.
In the summer before his senior year, Radlinski was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and was forced away from his teammates, fighting for his life. The day after he was diagnosed, he was introduced to the phrase Radstrong.
Dozens of Falcons donned a green Radstrong shirt and crowded Michigan Street, waving to his room in the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
“Radstrong is more than just Jake. Being strong for his family and the people that love him,” explained Radlinski’s uncle, who helped organize the event.
“Radstrong is our community, showing Jake our love, support, and prayers,” added football coach Landon Grove.
Radlinski was unaware his friends and family were outside the hospital.
“I was still at the point where I was pretty lightheaded, I couldn’t get out of bed much only to go to the bathroom, so I was getting up to go to the bathroom, I look out the window and there were so many people,” he recalled.
That crowded corner on Michigan Street is what he needed to fight.
“There’s a lot of times where you get down, and then you think of the community around you, and it’s like ‘I can’t let them down,'” Radlinski said.
With the school behind him, the high school senior finished chemo and was discharged from the hospital. Just in time for football season.
“I can’t do anything with contact like hitting, but since my freshman year, I’ve been the holder for PATs and field goals,” he said.
Cancer couldn’t keep the placeholder off the field. He was medically cleared to be the team’s placeholder in 2022.
“Jake ran out there and we were like ‘oh my gosh he’s on the field!’ That was really emotional not only for us but for the community to see Jake,” his mom, Stacy Radlinski, recalled.
With Radlinski behind his guys, the Falcons are ready to show what Radstrong means to their opponents. There’s no strict definition to the word, everyone has a different take.
“God gives his toughest tasks to his strongest soldiers, and this guy is one of his strongest soldiers. That’s what Radstrong means to me,” his dad, Paul Radlinski, said.
For the high school senior, there aren’t words to define how he felt looking out his hospital window.
“It’s not about me but the community as well. Obviously, me making it through this was great, but I wouldn’t be here without the community,” he said.
Without an exact definition it’s still pretty easy to see how much Radstrong means to this team, you’ll be able to see it every time the kicking team marches on the field.