The Red Raiders welcome a new teammate
For most 6-year-old boys, surviving is the farthest thing from their mind.
Chambersburg’s Gunnar Downie is not like most 6-year-olds.
Diagnosed with multiple brain tumors on June 26, 2016, Downie has undergone tremendous amounts of hardship. With extreme determination, Downie continues to attend school, while receiving chemotherapy treatments every Monday in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
“Chemo sucks. He will tell you that,” said Krissy Downie, Gunnar’s mother. “He lost his hair once and he will lose it again.”
Gunnar is now switching over to a new form of chemotherapy treatments after developing an allergic reaction to the past form of treatment.
Through everything, Downie has fought with endless resolve.
“He’s feisty and he never stops,” Krissy Downie said. “He’s got an attitude that’s through the roof.”
Despite all the hardships, Gunnar was able to take a day away from doctor’s appointments and treatment to enjoy a sport he loves — football.
Thanks to the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, an organization that works with children battling cancer by pairing them up with local college teams, clubs and community groups, Gunnar was able to lace up his shoes and join the Shippensburg University football team as the newest player on the Red Raider roster Thursday.
The celebration began after SU’s practice, where a table was brought out to the 50-yard line at Seth Grove Stadium to welcome the Red Raider’s newest member. Gunnar was then introduced to head coach Mark Maciejewski who brought him over to meet the team, which greeted him with cheers and applause.
Gunnar then signed his letter of intent to become the newest Red Raider. He received numerous gifts from Maciejewski and the Red Raiders, including a Shippensburg football T-shirt, a hat, schedule poster and tickets to SU’s remaining home games.
Then it was time to hit the field.
The Red Raiders welcomed Gunnar into the huddle and immediately put him to work, lining him up in the backfield. With a special play drawn up for him, Downie made a big impact.
Taking the handoff from quarterback Ryan Zapoticky, Downie followed his blocking perfectly down field, shedding countless tackles on his way to the end zone. Multiple Red Raiders dove to no avail, as Downie crossed the goal line and scored a touchdown for his new team.
Players quickly celebrated Downie’s spectacular run by putting their hands up to signal the touchdown, while other players lifted him into the air. He then broke the team down in the end zone, shouting “1, 2, 3, Red Raider Pride.”
Following the celebration, Gunnar was taken into the Red Raider locker room where he received his own locker — a locker he promised Maciejewski he’d keep clean — equipped with a helmet and shoulder pads. Gunnar enthusiastically took a seat in the locker, and put on his helmet.
He then returned to the field to play catch with members of the team, as well as coach Maciejewski’s sons, Brady and Levi.
SU defensive end Richard Nase was impressed by Gunnar’s talent and toughness, not only on the field, but in life.
“It’s really nice. It felt really good,” Nase said. “When I was younger I went through some tough times medically, but not nearly to the extent that he is. I know when the community comes together for the betterment of someone else’s life it’s awesome.”
With Nase’s locker in close proximity to Gunnar’s, Nase looks forward to seeing his newest teammate on game day.
“Gunnar’s locker is two lockers down from me,” Nase said. “He’s a part of that family now and I expect to see him on game day. I look forward to warming up with him next to me.”
For Gunnar, it was a perfect day, full of fun, gifts and purple Gatorade.
“It was amazing. At times it was hard to hold back tears,” Krissy Downie said. “He does like football and it’s just great to see him smile. He loved it and it’s going to be a great experience for him.”
Gunnar said his favorite activity of the day was playing catch. He also said it felt good to be a part of the team and to score a touchdown.
Maciejewski was thrilled by the effort of his new player.
“I’m very proud of the way our players brought Gunnar into the family. They understand the challenges that lay ahead of him and what he’s been through, as well as the way he’s beating [cancer],” Maciejewski said. “He’s really an inspiration to what we’re doing and to all of us. It was great to see him out here smiling and running around.”
While Maciejewski continues to preach playing with passion and emotion to his team, perhaps no one on the roster has the same passion that Gunnar possesses. While hardships certainly loom, Downie looks to continue to win his battle with cancer.
For more information on the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, or to donate, visit www.friendsofjaclyn.org