Ryan Teixeira, a baseball player at Colorado Mesa University who served as a volunteer buddy for the Grand Junction (Colo.) Little League Challenger Division® team at the 2016 Little League Baseball® World Series Challenger Exhibition Game, is currently facing a challenge of his own as he was recently diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia following his trip to South Williamsport this August. For Mr. Teixeira, a native of Pismo Beach, Calif., the diagnosis marks the second form of cancer he has had to battle in the last two years.
The fight against cancer started for Mr. Teixeira during his senior year of high school when he noticed a small lump on the inside of his right leg at baseball practice. With plans to attend Colorado Mesa University (CMU) on a baseball scholarship the next year, and not seeing improvement with physical therapy, Mr. Teixeira went to the doctor, where it was discovered that the mass was actually a tumor diagnosed as Stage One Ewing’s Sarcoma.
After surgery to have the 10-pound malignant tumor removed and months of chemotherapy, Mr. Teixiera enrolled at CMU with a clean bill of health, ready for his freshman year on the baseball team. There, Mr. Teixeira was soon granted a unique opportunity as he and his new college baseball teammates were asked to become volunteer buddies for the Grand Junction (Colo.) Little League Challenger Division team, who would be heading to the Little League Baseball World Series, to play against Camp Hill (Pa.) Little League in the 2016 Little League Challenger Division Exhibition Game.
“Special needs kids have always had a special place in my heart,” said Mr. Teixeira. “During my senior year, prior to my diagnosis, I took a special needs girl to a school dance and she was such a joy to be with. When I found out about the Challenger program, I was one of the first to put my name in. I just had to do it.”
When the baseball team from CMU first met with the Grand Junction LL team, they were told to go find a buddy and Ryan immediately walked out and found someone that he would remember for the rest of his life, Malia McConnell.
“It was an honor to be a part of all the firsts in her life; her first interview, her first flight, and so on,” shared Mr. Teixeira. “With all of the first that Malia experienced on this trip, hitting off live pitching was my goal for her. I was able to work with Malia and talk her into hitting the live pitching instead of hitting off the tee, which was another first for her, and she did great. It was great to help Malia get out of her shell and become a more confident person.”
“From the first time I met Ryan, he was so nice to me,” said Malia. “The more I got to know him he has become a great friend. He helped make my World Series experience that much more special and with his help and coaching, I got a hit off my second pitch! I’m not always comfortable with other people, but Ryan always made me feel safe and he was so much fun.”
After an unforgettable experience with Malia in Williamsport, Mr. Teixeira returned to Colorado with his teammates to head back to school at CMU. Following the trip, he thought had come down with a cold, but after the sickness would not go away, he decided to go see the school doctor to find out what was wrong.
The blood results soon revealed that Mr. Teixeira had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a rare, fast-growing form of cancer of the blood and bone marrow. This diagnosis coming less than a year after finishing his last round of chemotherapy from his Stage One Ewing Sarcoma tumor.
After his diagnosis was announced, the support for Mr. Teixeira immediately came flooding in on his phone and across social media as his friends, family, teammates, and people from around the world started to share their encouragement.
We're with you Ryan! Stay Tough. pic.twitter.com/t2lVt4Cim0
— Chris Hanks (@30Skipper) September 14, 2016
“The way that the Colorado Mesa University staff and coaches have rallied behind me has been so supportive and allowed me the opportunity to focus on getting better,” said Mr. Teixeira. “My teammates have been just overflowing with support and encouragement. I have people praying for me all over the world and I am blessed to have such a wonderful support system.”
Mr. Teixeira has started chemotherapy at UCLA Medical Center in order to get the disease into remission and once in remission he will be eligible for a bone marrow transplant. His goal is to be able to beat the disease as soon as possible and return to the baseball field. Throughout his battle, however, Mr. Teixeira has continued to receive more and more support from his friends, family, teammates and one newfound buddy who he has made an everlasting impact on.
“I’m so blessed to have Ryan as my friend and in my life,” shared Malia. “We got to hang out after we got back, and I text him every day since he’s been in the hospital. He truly is my hero!”
Now battling cancer for the second time, Mr. Teixeira, whose jersey number is 17, and his family, are in the process of starting “17 Strong”, a non-profit organization to help with scholarships for college-bound seniors and will send individuals battling terminal diseases, ages 19-33, on a “Victory Trip,” a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allows wishes to come true for young adults battling through disease. There will also be bone marrow drives at his alma mater Arroyo Grande High School and Colorado Mesa University coming up in early October. For more information, contact Heather Teixeira at 805-595-1416.