GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — When the Garfield Heights Bulldogs took the field Friday night to face Normandy High, the players were pumped and so were the fans, but one student athlete was especially amped.
“It’s so great! I can’t even describe it,” said 16-year-old Justin Szabo.
The starting right tackle for the team, number 66, has already tackled another formidable foe.
Ten months ago, during last year’s football season, Justin was diagnosed with leukemia.
He said, “I was like, wow this is kind of crazy.”
In the weeks leading up to the diagnosis, Justin had a bad cough and felt incredibly tired.
He was so fatigued that he could barely play football, but didn’t tell anyone.
His playing became such a problem some coaches and teammates thought he was slacking off on the field and not playing to his full potential.
“I’d play bad, they’d get on my case, try to motivate me not knowing it was something this serious,” said Justin.
As soon as the season ended his mother took him to the doctor.
Blood tests revealed the disease, and Justin was immediately started on aggressive chemotherapy treatments for leukemia.
Denise Szabo, Justin’s mom, said, “It’s hard… it’s very hard watching him get chemo.”
But through it all, the good student and youngest of four siblings never complained and always approached the treatments with a smile.
“He takes everything in stride, he really does,” said Denise.
His sister, Shannon Szabo, said, “I knew that as strong as a kid that he is that he’d pull through and he’d be fine.”
Sure enough, now 10 months later, Justin is suited up and back on the field playing for the Bulldogs.
Garfield Heights Athletic and Student Activities Director Kevin Hartman said Justin has been an excellent example for everyone on how to conquer adversity with positivity and strength.
“He’s a great kid,” said Hartman.
Justin’s treatments aren’t over yet. He’ll keep undergoing chemotherapy and blood counts until February 2015 and must be monitored for 10 years before he is considered 100% in the clear.
But once again, Justin said he will continue playing football and keep going for it.
AT 6’3 and 265 lbs. his hope and dream is to someday play college football.
“Just keep your head up, keep fighting, don’t give up,” said Justin.