Marik Tucker is the Bravest of the Bears
His name is Marik Tucker, which just happens to mean "warlike". He is an 11-year old boy who lives in Ledyard. In 2012, he was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a form of cancer. Marik got connected with the Coast Guard men's soccer team through an organization called Team IMPACT, a non-profit chartered to improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening illnesses. Core to their model is harnessing the power of teamwork by matching these courageous kids with college athletic teams. Team IMPACT children are drafted onto local college athletic teams and, to the greatest extent possible, become an official member of the team for the duration of their treatment and beyond.
He had requested to be placed with the Coast Guard men's soccer team through Team IMPACT and head coach Chris Parsons was happy to have Marik as part of the team.
"When Team Impact asked if our men's soccer team was interested in getting involved in the program, I knew it could be a great experience for our players and Marik" said Coast Guard head coach Chris Parsons. "However, I wanted our involvement in the program to driven by the players, and not me. It had to be their experience. I polled the team, and the interest was unanimous. Carlos Gonzalez and Richie Burns, our two goalkeepers, stepped up to take the lead. The three of us drove to his house to meet Marik and his family, and the relationship has grown from there. "
Marik's life began with struggle, he was born with Bilateral Severe hearing impairment. He struggled with speech, learning, school, and socially as well. He always fought hard to fit in, and be a strong little boy that let nothing stand in his way. He barreled through any obstacle that was thrown his way.
On June 12, 2012, Marik and his younger sister and their mom went to the pool in Louisiana where they were living at the time. At one point, he came out of the water limping, they family placed him on crutches and decided to watch the injury.
The family was transitioning from Louisiana to Connecticut at the time as his dad George was in the Navy and was going to be stationed in Groton.
Marik's right leg continued to bother him. He would feel better, but then the pain would return. He had an x-ray and there was a small fracture, but the doctor saw a "shadow" around the fracture, which concerned him. So they would go see a orthopedic specialist.
The specialist upon looking at Marik's x-ray, proposed an MRI, CT, and bone scan. All three were performed. A few days later they received a call requesting he see a Pediatric Orthopedic Oncologist at Yale. The family was told not to worry, it was just a precaution.
Marik would undergo a bone biopsy and the results were great news, it was not cancer, but an Anuerysmal bone cyst, he would have surgery in two weeks, August 14th, 2012, a day that turned the families world upside down.
Thirty minutes into surgery, his parents were called into a room to speak to the surgeon who told them it was most certainly cancer.
As one could imagine, the next few days were a whirlwind of faces and places as him mom described it.
On August 22nd, Marik's leg was casted form the groin down to the toes, and an intense protocol of chemotherapy was started. They were told that in 12 weeks, we would know what type of surgery he would need.
Unfortunately, Marik's tumor was very large and aggressive, and continued to grow with treatment. They made the heart wrenching decision to amputate his right leg on November 27, 2012.
Today he still continues chemotherapy in hopes of killing any cancer cells that may be left in his body.
"When I first met Marik I could tell that he was a tough kid. He has had to deal with more so far then most people have to deal with in their entire life," said Burns. "Having him around at games and practices is a huge inspiration for all the guys on the team and everyone wants to do anything they can to cheer. Whenever he comes to games he comes on the field at halftime and kicks the ball around with me for a few minutes. It is truly amazing him kicking a soccer ball. He is truly an amazing little kid and I am honored to have him and his family as a part of this team."
He missed a complete year of school and all of his treatments are inpatient, so three weeks out of every month, Yale-New Haven Hospital is his home.
His mother Kelli says "My warlike son has been broken down and beaten, but refused to give up. The end is now in sight, yet the battle rages on."
This year, Marik went back to "real school" as he started his first day of fifth grade at The American School for the Deaf in West Hartford. He has attended several of the Bears men's soccer practices and was in attendance for the season-opener, a 3-0 win over Southern Maine on August 30th.
"Having Marik on the team has been the most rewarding experience for us on the soccer team and all the hooligans (the nickname of the Coast Guard soccer fans) that meet him at games," said Gonzalez. "Marik's smile is contagious, every practice or game that he has come to he has the whole team laughing and smiling. Having Marik on the team can turn any bad day here at the Academy into a good one."
Marik is truly an inspiration to all that come in contact with him and the Bears will honor him at a home game later this season.