Adrian Shawn Littlejohn is gone, but he will never be forgotten.
His spirit during a brief, but courageous, life will always be etched in the minds of the people who knew him and his parents.
The 14-month-old son of Lakewood Ranch assistant football coach Anthony Littlejohn and his wife, Ivette, lost his life to cancer last weekend after waging a ferocious battle. He set an example for all of us adults to follow.
Adrian Shawn LittleJohn died Sunday morning in his mother’s arms.
“What a better day to go to heaven than today,” Ivette wrote in her online CaringBridge Journal. “We just have to take it day by day and just try to get used to Adrian not being here physically, but he will always be with us in spirit and he will watch over us. He is such a strong kid and he did so well through all of his treatment and I am so so proud of him.”
This little baby with a glowing smile brought together an entire community and made so many people realize how petty their differences sometimes become.
Dick Vitale, who has fought a gallant battle against pediatric cancer with his Jimmy V Foundation, has announced that Adrian’s name and memory will live on.
“We are going to give a major, six-figure grant in excess of a quarter of a million dollars in Adrian’s name for a research grant for All Children’s Hospital, where he was a patient and try all we can to help the family,” Vitale said.
Adrian Shawn Littlejohn’s memory also will be a focal point of the sixth annual Dick Vitale Gala, which will bring some of the biggest sports names to the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota on May 20.
“We will have a large, blown-up poster of the youngster’s picture, and it will say the Dick Vitale Gala is dedicated to the memory of Adrian Shawn LittleJohn and a research grant in his name will go to All-Children’s Hospital,” Vitale said. “It was heartbreaking to feel the pain the parents were going through. We want this memory to live on.”
Adrian Littlejohn’s Celebration of Life will be held at Woodlawn Community Church today, and his mother has insisted that it be a happy event.
“We are celebrating Adrian’s life with joy. We don’t want this to be a sorrow service; we want it be happy just like Adrian. Don’t feel obligated to wear black, we want light in the room to remember Adrian’s wonderful smile,” she said in her Journal.
Vitale has dealt with three sets of parents who lost children to cancer recently and all will be in attendance at this gala in memory of the children: Along with Adrian, there was 8-year-old Johnny Teis and 17-month-old Lucy Weber.
“That is a key reason that we must beat this dreaded disease. We must all unite together and raise the dollars for research to win the battle. That is my goal, to raise money for pediatric cancer research,” Vitale said.
Tickets to the gala have sold out, but donations may be made to pediatric cancer research by texting JIMMYV to 85944 or by calling (800) 4JIMMYV.
Herzlich wants chance
The war on cancer has so many fronts.
It even has Vitale issuing a warning to all those NFL teams who passed on Boston College’s Mark Herzlich, a cancer survivor and honored guest at the Vitale Gala last year, in last week’s draft.
Before he was diagnosed with cancer several years ago, Herzlich was considered one of the top linebackers in the country. After his junior year, he was rated a sure first-round pick.
Then the 6-foot-3, 245-pounder was told he would never play again and could lose his life because of a bone cancer called sarcoma.
Herzlich proved all those prognosticators wrong, came back after sitting out a year and had a solid, if not spectacular, season in 2010.
He might be considered a risk among NFL teams because of a titanium rod inserted in his leg to help with his recovery. Maybe it scared teams off. But if they stick around long enough to measure his heart, those fears will vanish.
“All those teams made a major mistake. You will sign as a free agent and show them they don’t know anything,” Vitale said in a tweet to Herzlich.
Herzlich is his positive self again ready to prove all those prognosticators wrong.
“I guess people are saying I can’t play football anymore. Well I have heard that before and look what happened,” he told Boston.com. “The big thing is for me to get to an NFL camp and prove myself. I would have to do that anyway. It doesn’t matter.”
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.