Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
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Underneath the plastic wristband that details all the plays and formations and signals, MarQueis Gray wears another rubber bracelet during every game and practice. It's orange with black letters, and reads "Shutout Croix's Cancer."
That's a reference to Croix Hurtis, a 12-year-old middle-school student in New Richmond, Wis., who was diagnosed with Burkitt's leukemia and lymphoma on the day after Chrismas last December.
And while the value of tokens and symbols like a band around your wrist may seem minimal, Gray said it carries great meaning to him. "I look at it every day. It reminds me to smile, because my family is healthy and I'm able to play the game I love," the Gophers quarterback said earlier this season. "I mean, Croix wants to play hockey, but he has to fight cancer instead. It keeps me motivated and grateful for all I have."
Gray befriended Hurtis earlier this year, when his fiance learned through a friend that the youth hockey player was a Gopher fan, and a fan of the quarterback specifically. Gray visited him in the hospital, gave him a Gophers jersey, stayed in touch through Facebook, and even attended a fund-raiser to help the Hurtis family offset some of the medical costs. And he began wearing the bracelet every day, "just to help give both of us strength."
Gray's coach is a believer in taking strength from such symbols, too, considering he too is a cancer survivor. On Saturday, volunteers for the Coach Kill Cancer Fund will sell their own wristbands, reading "Tackle the Tough Times" next to a Gophers logo, for a suggested $2 donation at TCF Bank Stadium, before the Gophers' game with Syracuse.
Gray won't be playing in that game, though. In a bit of irony, his status has changed just as Hurtis' has, too. After nine grueling months of chemotherapy, Hurtis' cancer was declared in remission last week, according to his family's online journal. But the Gophers quarterback is the one sidelined now, albeit by an ailment that doesn't being to compare: an ankle sprain.
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