- Allison Farrand/Daily
By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 28, 2014
Most people have played a sport at one point in their lives. Whether it’s T-ball or basketball, many children shape their childhoods around sports and take away lasting memories. It could be the game-winning buzzer beater, a goal, a home run or just a friendship.
Imagine if that was taken away.
Enter 9-year-old Miles Root.
Root’s life took a drastic turn when he was just five. His love of soccer would have to be put on hold. He was suffering from a brain tumor and would have to use his competitive energy elsewhere.
The brain tumor was fully removed just a couple of days later, but Root then suffered from posterior fossa syndrome — symptoms that can occur after surgery — which resulted in him being unable to speak or move the right side of his body.
The news was grim for Root, a Tecumseh, Mich. native. To cure the syndrome, he had to endure 30 rounds of radiation, nine rounds of chemotherapy, a shunt placement and two hospitalizations due to infections.
Root, though, didn’t let that defeat him. Doctors confirmed he was cancer-free nearly four months after the initial diagnosis.
But Root relapsed early last year and is now in hospice.
Root and his family found he had a much larger support system this time, though — the Michigan men’s lacrosse team.
Upon hearing his story, senior defensive midfielder Jeff Chu knew he wanted to get involved.
“I wanted to help and show support to kids with cancer,” Chu said. “A lot of athletes get to go to Mott Children’s Hospital on Thursday nights, and that was something I always really enjoyed. So I thought that this would be something we would enjoy.”
The University’s partnership with the Friends of Jaclyn program made Chu’s aspirations tangible. The program — with a mission “to help improve the quality of life of children and their families battling pediatric brain tumors” — accomplishes its purpose by placing children on sports teams based on geographical proximity to the hospital.
The Friends of Jaclyn program then reached out to the lacrosse program about adopting Root. The decision was easy: The 9-year-old would become the team’s newest member.
“No questions asked,” said sophomore long stick midfielder Chase Brown. “It was the least we could do to show our support.”
Though Root can’t physically help the team, his presence has been emotionally beneficial to the Wolverines.
“He and his family helped put a lot of things in perspective to a lot of young men who, for the most part, have everything going well in their lives,” said Michigan coach John Paul. “This really puts in perspective that whatever problems you have, they often pale in perspective to other things people are going through. Our team has really embraced that, and it has had a tremendous impact.”
Added Chu: “We as athletes have a really unique platform, and we can touch a lot of lives, and sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of that. But with Miles on our team, and when we bring him to the locker room, it brings the team back down to earth and puts things into perspective.”
Educating the team about his illness isn’t the only way Root interacts with the team. Michigan lets Root lead the team in stretches and participate in practice.
Before the annual Maize vs. Blue scrimmage, Root was given the opportunity to put on a maize jersey to be on the offensive team, or a blue jersey to be a part of the defense. He chose blue, and the unit erupted in cheers. Brown recalls that moment as his favorite with Miles.
“Being involved in a sport again is the best part for him,” said Nicole Root, Miles’s mother. “He can’t actively participate in sports, so being involved in something with camaraderie is nice for him. It’s awesome to see others rallying around him.”
Though they were already making an impact in Miles’s life, the team wanted to do more. Again, under Chu’s direction, the Wolverines had no trouble finding the perfect way.
Chase Jones, founder of the Vs. Cancer Foundation and a cancer survivor himself, reached out to Chu about the possibility of having the team shave their heads to raise cancer awareness.
Chu had short hair, making the decision easy, but others had a harder time deciding. Lacrosse “flow,” or long hair that hangs outside of the player’s helmet, is part of the culture. It takes months to grow it out, and shaving it off is a major commitment.
“Hair is a ‘lax bro’ thing, and I wasn’t sure how the team or other lacrosse teams would take to it,” Chu said. “But we recognize it’s for a good cause, so we’re willing to give that up.”
Saturday, with the help of Ann Arbor’s Coach and Four Barber shop, the players followed through on their promise.
Brown hadn’t had his hair cut in almost eight months. But said he would do it again in a heartbeat.
As one player was getting shaved, others teased him about his chances with girls. But teasing aside, they enjoyed Root watching as they buzzed off their hair.
“With Miles here, it not only helps me, but the team also,” Brown said. “There’s team bonding all over, and it’s unbelievable how this simple action can get so much laughing, but also shows a lot of support for his family, which is awesome.”
Root’s presence is recognized every day by each team member, and it’s allowing him to be part of something that was taken from him. For now, sports can be a part of Root’s life once again.