Cote inspires survivor celebration

14 years ago

NE-Zach-dcx-ar-47-clrBy Natalie Bazinet
Staff Writer

LIMESTONE — “I think he’s about 20 feet tall,” said second-grader Caleb Sharp when asked just how big he thought his Big Buddy Zach Cote is. The two Limestone Community School students have been Big/Little Buddies since mid-October, but Caleb never knew that Zach is a survivor of childhood cancer.

It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that Caleb didn’t know Zach was ever sick, after all, few if any of his soccer opponents this fall knew either. They didn’t even know that Zach lost part of his leg to cancer almost a year ago to keep it from spreading.

 

Based on the testimony of his friends, teachers and coach, that’s just how Zach wants it.

“He wanted everyone to play like he didn’t have a prosthetic,” said his soccer and basketball coach John Hamilton. “He just wants to be like everyone else, and he is.”

“No one treats him different,” said Zach’s friend Spencer Keiser, a senior at LCS. “He’s still aggressive and he’s still a good shooter.”

Having overcome the disease with more strength and grit that most people can muster to fight the common cold, it’s an understatement to say that Zach has taken the cancer and the resulting amputation just well.

His English teacher, Mr. Hixon, recalled that Zach didn’t even miss much school before the surgery.

“He was so happy that the doctors were confident that they would be able to get it all,” Hixon said. “He accepted it and said that he’d ‘still have one leg.’”

Shortly after the surgery, Zach returned to school in a wheelchair, which he quickly replaced with crutches. Zach may not have hit the ground running when he got his new prosthetic leg, but it wasn’t long before he was back in the athletic saddle; he even played on the baseball team that spring as a utility infielder.

Zach doesn’t see himself as an exceptional guy and even though December marks one year of being cancer free, he doesn’t see it as a big deal.

“That’s just his state of mind,” Spencer said.

But even though Zach is simply being Zach — as modest as he is — the excitement about his first complete year as a cancer survivor has become so intense the correlating celebration can’t be described as anything less than electric.

“A cancer diagnosis can cause anyone to go into the depths of despair — you can feel sorry for yourself, you can give up on living, you can live in a state of worry and fear. Zach did none of those things,” said LCS teacher Jennifer Poitras, a cancer survivor herself. “He came back just like it never even happened and it was amazing to see him first in his wheelchair, then his crutches, and then with his new leg and wearing shorts; he just had so much courage and strength that I call him my hero.”

Poitras and fellow educator Kenneth Hixon have spearheaded efforts to celebrate Dec. 15 — the day that Zach was diagnosed last year.

Poitras and Hixon got the celebratory ball rolling by asking permission from Zach and his family, but having a big to-do all for him wasn’t the tri-sport athlete’s style. Instead, he thought that it might be nice that players could honor a cause like professional athletes do, by wearing a patch or a ribbon to signify, in this case, survivor gold.

When word came back from officials with the Maine Principals Association that a ribbon or a patch would not be allowed on the uniforms, the teachers went out on a limb and ordered brand new white and gold basketball uniforms for the team to wear on Dec. 15 during the varsity basketball game.

“We felt strongly that his wish to have his team treated like professional players was the way we needed to go, so on a leap of faith,  we ordered white and gold jerseys without a sponsor and without money to pay for them knowing that honoring his wish was the most important thing,” Poitras said, “and if the money we raise at the game from the 50/50 raffle and concessions had to help pay for those gold jerseys, than that’s what we had to do.”

Since then, sponsors to support the event, themed “It’s all about the BLING! Celebrate a Survivor” have been pouring in from across the country.

Like professional athletes, Zach and his fellow students of the Limestone basketball team will be trading their Eagles jerseys for wearing the specialized survivor-gold EagleZ uniforms for the event — and if all goes according to plan, the signature uniforms will be worn by the varsity basketball team once annually for years in a continuing celebration.

But a high school basketball player even dressed like a professional is still basically a high school basketball player — unless they’re interviewed by ESPN.

ESPN Magazine, ESPN.com, and rise.espn.go.com will each be featuring a story on Zach in early December. In mid November, an ESPN reporter interviewed Zach, and a couple members of his family, friends, teachers and teammates.

“It was overwhelming,” Zach said. “I really didn’t know what to say.”

“It’s All about the BLING!” has evolved into a tremendously celebratory event with all proceeds going to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life in Zach’s honor. There will be a Silence is Golden silent auction featuring an assortment of golden items, from sneakers with Goldbond Medicated Powder to golden skinned turkeys and golden jewelry; concessions will consist of golden foods such as nachos with cheese, buttered popcorn and frenchfries; a D.J. will be playing hits only from albums that have gone “Gold,” the small school is even borrowing cheerleaders from another town (because Limestone doesn’t have their own).

Even with the golden celebration, the ESPN publicity and the imported cheerleaders, Zach is most excited to get the win against the Easton basketball team on Wednesday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. in the gym of the Limestone Community School.

“Hopefully we get the big ‘W,’” said Keiser, who’s excited for Zach to see everything unfold the night of the big game (and he’s also hoping that Limestone beats Easton a lot to a little.)

“The team looks pretty decent as long as we can keep it together and play as a team,” Zach said.

Whether the EagleZ win or loose, the town will be celebrating everyone who’s fought cancer, including their own “20-foot-tall” Zach.

“[Now and before] the cancer Zach was always dedicated to whatever sport he was playing. He works hard every day and showed leader qualities even as a freshman,” Hamilton said.