Sept. 28, 2009

By Amy Farnum
NCAA.com

It’s truly amazing how much one person’s life can affect a whole community in such a short time. 

Javier Restrepo – the son of University of Oklahoma women’s volleyball head coach Santiago Restrepo -- made that kind of impact during his four years in this world. 

Javi was born to parents Santiago and Heidi in 2005, giving their son, Diego, a younger brother, and becoming a part of the extended Sooner family.  He was just a toddler when diagnosed Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), and for the next three years, he raged a grown-up sized battle against the disease.  Javi underwent chemotherapy, received a bone marrow transplant from his brother Diego, and eventually a liver transplant from his uncle, but the cancer kept returning.

Although Javi fought the disease courageously, he eventually succumbed to the cancer on July 31, 2009, but not before he and his story touched countless people that he encountered during the struggle. 

On Sept. 30, they will all come together to honor Javi and to support the Pledge for the Cure night when Oklahoma hosts Nebraska at McCasland Field House in a nationally-televised match-up between Big 12 squads.  All proceeds from the event will benefit the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center. 

Organized by the women’s volleyball assistant coaches and student-athletes, the tribute originally began as a fundraising effort before Javi’s passing.   Before the match begins, OU football coach Bob Stoops and women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale will sign autographs to raise monies.  A minimum charitable donation of $10 is required and fans are allowed to bring one item per coach to be signed.

Stoops and Coale have both been huge supporters of the Restrepo family during Javi’s illness.  Stoops provided a private jet for the family to enjoy a day at the beach in Florida, and also to transport them to and from Delaware for medical care.  Coale hired a professional photographer for a private session at the family’s house, days before Javi’s passing.

In addition, fans will have the opportunity to pledge a dollar amount for every Ace, Dig, Kill and/or Block OU accumulates during the match. A minimum donation of $.50 per is encouraged.  You do not have to be attendance to make a pledge.

The team will also be wearing a special uniform patch to honor Javi this season, which they designed using the letter “J” with a halo and a sunflower – Javi’s favorite.  The athletic department will also be handing out orange bracelets that say “Javi” on one side and “Fight Like A Champion” on the other.

Between sets at the match, doctors from the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, where Javi received chemotherapy, will speak about leukemia to raise awareness about the disease and honor survivor groups and those children that in remission or going through treatment in attendance.

Restrepo has been deeply touched by the outpouring of support throughout Javi’s three-year battle with the disease, and the continued efforts to honor his memory.

“Our community, our athletics department – everybody has been tremendous,” said Restrepo.  “Everyone has tried to make it as easy as possible and it has been a tremendous help for all of us during the most difficult times of our lives.  Overall, it’s overwhelming how much support we continue to have and we do appreciate what everybody has done for us.”

Restrepo, who is expected to speak following the match with the Huskers, is hopeful for three goals during the emotional event. 

“One, my son is remembered as very courageous and very sound-minded and that he fought all he could for his life,” said Restrepo.  “Two, that he brought a big smile to everybody and everybody’s faces.  And, three, to help those families in need when this happens to them and to help raise funds for research for a cure for leukemia.  We want families that are struggling right now to fight and have hope that their loved ones can go on surviving and stay in this world.”

The Oklahoma-Nebraska match will be televised live on ESPNU at 6 p.m. CT.  For more information about Pledge for a Cure, go to http://www.soonersports.com/ot/javi_restrepo_pledge_for_a_cure.html