Jan. 3 carries a lot of weight with Nick Allegretti.
This year the Lincoln Way-East (Ill.) standout offensive lineman is spending it in San Antonio preparing for the U.S. Army All-American game Saturday.
However, that's not the reason that the date stands out for Allegretti.
Seven years ago Nick and his older brother, Joey, were in Miami with their family for the Orange bowl. Immediately after the game their dad, Carl knew something wasn’t right so they took Joey (now 21) to the hospital.
The next morning he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), beginning a three year battle with cancer.
“He had a little under a year of hard intensive chemo treatment, a couple months of radiation, and then he went into remission where he still had chemo treatments but just not as extensive,” Nick now 17, said. “After those three years he was considered cancer free and he has been past that for about four years.”
Wednesday, the memories of his brother’s battle flooded back as the Army All-Americans spent time at Methodist and St. PJ’s Children’s hospitals in San Antonio.
“I had been looking forward to visiting the whole time. it was the most memorable experience since I have been here,” Allegretti said. “It is something that I wanted to do and give back to all the people that helped out my brother and all the people that have had an illness.
"A lot of the kids were all receiving treatment and had to say in their bed. We talked to them about football, if they liked it if they played it. If they want to play football one day, what sports they like. What their favorite team was.”
In fact, Allegretti met several patients who had the same type of cancer Joey did.
That’s when the 6-foot-4, 280-pound lineman made a point to tell each of them that they would be okay, his brother beat cancer — and so could they.
“I would probably say there are two or three kids that stuck out to me the most, like Johnny who was ten years old,” Allegretti said. “His family was in the room with him and when we walked in he was in the hospital bed and had IV’s hooked up to him.
“We walked in and he just could not stop smiling, he couldn't take his eyes off the football he signed for him. His parents were taking pictures, and that one was very special.”
Allegretti and the other Army All-Americans met many children Wednesday afternoon, and his message was the same to all of them.
You are strong enough to beat this.
“Another little boy, Julian, was four-years old, he was such a happy kid and it kind of make me think how the affects so many people and how he has only lived four years yet but he is going through something that most people will never have to deal with,” Allegretti said. “At four years old.
"These kids are going through something really tough and it made you feel good that it was able to put a smile on their face.”
Nick was also able to spread his message and love to several parents.
“I enjoyed seeing the parents when I told them that my brother had the same thing and was seven years removed and doing fine,” Allegretti said. “They were relieved to see that it is going to be okay, their son or their daughter can get back to their normal, happy state. That was another part that I was happy that I was able to help out with.”
After Nick left the hospital he reached out to Joey to share his experience.
“I just texted him and told him about it and just how it was kind of nice to give those kids a smile. i remember the stuff he was going through,” Allegretti said. “There were some days he had rough days, a couple kids there were in the hospital for a couple days and he had to do that sometimes. If they get a cold it affects them a lot more than it does a person without leukemia. It was nice to put a smile on all of their faces.”
The next step for Nick is to head to Illinois to play football, where Joey will be entering his junior year, still cancer free.
“He is seven years out and really nothing, no lingering effects,” Allegretti said. “He made the deans list at Illinois the last two semesters so he is doing really well.”
His brother’s battle motivates Nick to fight hard on the football field, but when given a chance to cheer on those fighting for much more, he’s always ready.