A freshman on Minneapolis South’s varsity softball team got an unexpected start at pitcher recently. She usually plays right field, but she looked completely confident and happy taking the ball.
She gave up only one run in five innings to earn the victory. She struck out three batters, walked none. She threw fastballs and changeups and wiggled out of one jam.
She pitched marvelous. Of course she was marvelous.
That’s been Mia Gerold’s nickname since being told on her ninth birthday that she had an inoperable brain stem tumor.
That was six years ago.
A year later, she led the Gophers football team onto the field before the 2011 season opener at the request of then-coach Jerry Kill.
Today, she’s a 15-year-old high school freshman and captain of South’s softball team.
Marvelous Mia remains a fighter in life.
“I’m thankful for everything and how lucky I am because I almost feel like I have a second chance at life,” she says. “I have to totally go at it and get everything I can out of it. I’m blessed because I’m in sports, in school, and I have a great group of friends.”
I first met Mia on the front porch of her home in 2011. She was 10 and full of optimism despite dealing with a frightening health issue.
She had been diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma that mostly affects children younger than 10.
Surgery is not an option with DIPG. Radiation is the only form of treatment. Mia underwent 30 rounds of radiation — five days a week for six weeks.
Survival rates remain very poor in DIPG cases. If the tumor returns, more radiation is not an option.
Mia brought me to tears with her positive attitude that day as she showed me the tumor on her first brain scan.
She talked about how much she loves life and her family, and that anything she experiences in life thereafter would be “sprinkles on a cake.” That perspective and courage from a 10-year-old floored me.
My column on Mia appeared the morning of the Gophers’ 2011 opener. She had become friends with Kill, who invited her to lead his team onto the field before his first home game as Gophers coach.
Mia also addressed Kill’s team before the start of fall camp that season. She was terrified but spoke from the heart, telling players and coaches that life is a gift and to remember their blessings when faced with adversity.
Mia’s cheery outlook resonated with readers. No story in my 20 years of writing has generated as much outpouring. A former Marine e-mailed to say he cried over his breakfast.
The Gerold family raised $10,000 for the HopeKids organization under the name Team Marvelous Mia.
“She is a miracle kid,” says her mother, Sandy.
Mia’s brain scans continued to bring good news as years passed. She feels perfectly normal. Her parents no longer hold their breath in fear of the tumor returning.
“I don’t let it worry me anymore,” Mia says.
Mia asked a lot of questions when first diagnosed, but she was too young to comprehend fully the gravity of her condition. She and her mom had a long conversation last summer about DIPG and those kids who are not as fortunate.
“I think about it fairly often,” Mia says. “I think about where I would have been if things had gone differently and the future. I’m so thankful for where I am.”
She found a passion in softball. She’s fiercely competitive on the field, always has been, starting in T-ball when she became frustrated with boys who sat down in the outfield and picked grass.
Mia joined South’s varsity team as a seventh-grader, making this her third season. She bats second in the order and is a “go-getter,” according to her coach, Morgan Kane.
Mia also has joined a club team so she can train and play year-round.
“She sees a challenge and will do what she can to achieve it,” Kane said.
Some of Mia’s high school friends and teammates were unaware she had brain cancer. They were shocked when she shared her story.
“It’s not something you bring up,” she says.
Mia and Kill remain close friends. They met after one of Kill’s players visited Mia’s school and heard her story.
The two attended a charity dance together a few years ago and danced so much that Kill was sore the next day. They had lunch recently during one of Kill’s visits to town and still talk and text frequently.
“She is one of the best people I’ve met in my entire life,” Kill said.
Mia enjoyed a postgame chocolate chip cookie as we talked for the first time since sitting on her front porch five years ago. She has matured into a young woman who has adjusted well to high school.
I ask what message she would share with anyone facing a difficult situation.
“One of my biggest things is hope,” she says. “Never lose it. Look where you can get with it. It’s super powerful. And live life to the fullest because it could change at any time.”
She’s still marvelous, indeed.