OPINION COLUMNS

Setting pen aside to listen; Inspiring story hits home

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, December 29, 2018
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Last spring, after finishing up a baseball gamer for the midweek paper, I got a text message I’ll never forget.

Jerod Blanks. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

It didn’t give me much info, but it had all I needed. Less than 20 minutes away in Chico, the Dragons’ starting quarterback, leading scorer in basketball, ace pitcher and salutatorian was racking up accolades in spite of unthinkable tragedy.

When he was 11, Jerod Blanks lost his mother, Linda. She died in her sleep after a bout of cardiac hypertrophy.

Just five months later, after a battle with bipolar disorder, Jerod’s father, Keith, committed suicide.

Few could even begin to fathom what Jerod went through. He was just a sixth grader, but suddenly, Jerod was without his mother and father.

The story particularly touched me, because by the time I was 8, my mother and father had also died. My mother lost her battle with breast cancer in 2000 and four years later, my father suffered a heart attack in his sleep.

When I first approached Jerod about telling his story, we spent about half an hour in the parking lot of Chico High School talking about our past and the similarities we shared. More than anything, I was interested to hear about how another person coped with losing their parents at such a young age.

For the first time in a long time, I sat down my phone, left my pen and legal pad in the car, and just listened.

By the time he was finished, Jerod’s story had left me in awe.

Not only had Jerod lost his parents, but his two other siblings had, too. His older sister, Kelcey, became Jerod’s legal guardian and raised him, putting some of her life on hold. She wound up transferring colleges, and, at 20, raised Jerod and his older brother, Jeremy.

I remember thinking to myself, “What sort of will must that take?”

Eventually, I picked my phone up and started taking notes, starting the official interview. For the next hour or so, Jerod walked me through his childhood to present day.

It takes a lot of courage to relive painful memories of your past. Jerod has courage and then some, shining in the classroom and in athletics.

Reece Waddell

When Jerod graduated in May with a 3.9 GPA, he had already accumulated 35 hours of college credit – giving him a two-semester head start. He will start classes at Texas A&M University in a few weeks and plans to major in mechanical engineering.

“I’m really excited,” Jerod said over the phone this past week. “I’m finally ready to get out of Chico for a little bit, meet some new faces and make some new friends.

“I think everybody would be proud. I think [my mom and dad] would be proud of me, given everything I’ve accomplished.”

Jerod received several scholarships to Texas A&M and is slated to graduate in May 2022 – one year early.

He is not sure what he wants to do with his degree, but said he plans on interning to find something he loves and is passionate about.

As he prepares for college and the next chapter of his life, Jerod was quick to acknowledge Kelcey, his brother, Jeremy, and the rest of the community for their support over the years.

“I would just want to say thank you to everybody for helping me out along the way,” Jerod said. “I’ve had a lot taken from me, but I’ve also been blessed with more things than I can imagine.”

As a journalist and sportswriter, I consider myself lucky to get to tell people’s stories for a living. But in the case of Jerod, I realized how fortunate I am to meet extraordinary people along the way.

Best of luck to you, Jerod. I know your parents would be proud.

Reece Waddell is sports editor.

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