Jayhawk Dreams Grants Weston Funk an Unforgettable Experience
Nov. 18, 2010
LAWRENCE, Kan. –
When Weston Funk was diagnosed with a rare and deadly form of Leukemia in 2005, doctors said that the odds of finding a match for a stem cell transplant would be smaller than those of winning the lottery. Two years after receiving a life saving transplant from his perfect match, Funk found himself in the Kansas women’s volleyball team locker room, side-by-side with team members in a huddle, which for a boy his age is just about the same as winning the lottery. So what more could a two-time lottery winner ask for? Maybe for his beloved Chicago Cubs to win the World Series next year, but let’s not get into that just yet.
For the Volleyball match against Baylor on November 18, the Jayhawk Dreams program invited Funk and his dad for an all-access evening inside Kansas Athletics. The night began with an introduction to volleyball head coach Ray Bechard, who escorted Funk into the locker room and introduced him to the team by relaying Weston’s story of strength and perseverance.
“In Weston’s life he has shown tremendous courage and fight. That’s exactly what we need to show tonight,” Bechard said.
Slightly blushing from the shout out, Funk was them swarmed by the team, and there he stood in the middle of the tower of women, a part of the team’s breakdown.
“Kansas on three. One. Two. Three.”
Next on the agenda was a tour of Kansas Basketball. Former Jayhawk guard Brennan Bechard guided Funk and his dad through the men’s locker room, training room and practice facility, where Funk caught a glimpse of the nationally-ranked Jayhawks preparing for their game Friday against North Texas. Bechard showed Funk to the team lounge where his eyes lit up when he took a seat on the oversized black leather recliner and saw the XBox and Playstation; the first time all night that Funk had shown his true age. Up until that moment he was shaking hands with coaches like he was their peer, and carrying himself with a demeanor of someone much old than 13 years old.
Finally, Funk was led into what ESPN The Magazine recently proclaimed the loudest arena in college basketball, Allen Fieldhouse.
“It looks way different when it is empty,” Funk said.
He set up behind the three-point arc and fired an imaginary buzzer beater.
“I don’t know if I’d be able to make a shot with all those people in the stands though,” Funk said.
He stood arms crossed over his chest at center court while his dad took a picture, something that might not have been possible without the kindness of a complete stranger.
Keith Bozeman, a humble Alabaman, joined the bone marrow registry in 1997 in response to a co-workers illness and in November of 2005 was matched perfectly with Funk. It’s been called a one-in-a-million match, and Bozeman was thankful just to be a part of the “life changing experience.”
“I’m happy to be part of a miracle, that’s exactly what it was,” Bozeman said.
While Jayhawk Dreams provided Funk with an experience of a lifetime, Bozeman provided him with the experience of life itself.
“I think at that age, having been through what he’s been through, just breathing and knowing he’s alive, you can’t ask for more of a gift than that,” Bozeman said.
Funk might not have been the good luck charm the Jayhawks needed that night, as they fell to Baylor, but he left a lasting impression.
Lauren Hagan, Jayhawk outside hitter, recently underwent surgery on a torn labrum, and could not warm up with the team. She sat and chatted with Funk on the bench instead.
“I have a bad attitude about my shoulder sometimes. The surgery went really well and I’m not in a ton of pain, but I get frustrated and [hanging out with Weston] made me realize it could be a lot worse. I can’t complain,” Hagan said.
In Funk’s 13 short years on this earth he has lived out more life than people four times his age. In 2009 he was selected as the Kansas representative for Champions Across America, a Children’s Miracle Network program, and was able to meet President Obama, a White Sox fan.
“He asked [the group of kids] if we had any questions, so I raised my hand. I told him I had more of a statement than a question. I said `you know the Cubs are going to win the World Series this year.’ (President Obama) said, smiling, `I liked you up until then,'” Funk said.
Before the game, Funk was asked if he wanted anything to eat. He humbly claimed he was content without food. It was as if accepting a hot dog would be greedy, and he was far too well mannered to behave like that. Who turns down free food?
“You’d be surprised. I’m not like most people,” Funk responded.
Actually Weston, we are not surprised at all.
(He eventually ordered a soft pretzel. After all, this extraordinary person is still a hungry kid.)
The Kansas Athletics “Jayhawk Dreams” program, started in the fall of 2010, grants KU sports-themed wishes to children with medical conditions.