A 16-year-old boy is an inspiration for us all

A 16-year-old boy is an inspiration for us all

Car after car kept turning the corner to drive by and honk at Max Demarais.

The surprised 16-year-old Butte High sophomore watched, with his family by his side, from his front lawn while Butte High trainer Christine Mayer stood several feet away holding a sign that read, “Honk if you’re Max Strong.”

The social distancing parade lasted about a half an hour, and the cars were going much faster than normal parade speed. We almost saw at least one wreck.

Mayer came up with the idea of the Friday night parade as a sendoff for Max, who had his right eye removed during a complicated surgery Monday in Salt Lake City.

The Demarais family reports a successful surgery that also took out a tumor behind the eye and inserted a prosthetic eye. It will hopefully be the end of a nightmare that began when Max went for a physical before his freshman football season in 2018.

Max thought the people, young and old, were parading past his house to offer him inspiration. Rather, they were there because they were inspired by Max.

At 16, Max is strong and wise well beyond his years. He has stayed positive and upbeat when nobody would have faulted him if he sulked and cried “why me?”

Instead, he stood unflinchingly in the face of such unimaginable fear and provided an example for all of us. The term “Max Strong” could not possibly be more fitting.

Even in these trying, divided times, the one thing we can all agree on is that Max is a hero.

As car after car drove by, I also could not help but think of Lance Armstrong.

No, the disgraced cyclist did not honk for the Butte boy, but his fingerprints are all over the “Max Strong” movement.

Before he had his seven Tour de France titles stripped for cheating, Armstrong, remember, was an inspirational cancer survivor.

In 1996, Armstrong was diagnosed with advanced testicular cancer. That cancer spread to his lymph nodes, lungs, brain and abdomen, and doctors thought he was a goner.

They said his chance of survival was “almost none.”

That was before Armstrong recovered started his string of seven straight Tour de France titles from 1999 through 2005.

Armstrong also found the time to start the Livestrong Foundation to assist other cancer survivors. Pretty soon, those yellow Livestrong bracelets to support his cause could be found everywhere.

His inspiration and strength helped countless cancer victims survive, or at least gave them courage as they began their own fight.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, the first thing I did was go to the book store to buy her Armstrong’s autobiography. She read it, and it helped.

Since then, so many brave cancer fights have followed Armstrong’s lead, including Max’s. The term “Max Strong,” like so many fight slogans, is a direct result of the “Livestrong” campaign.

Of course, Armstrong was cheating during his run to greatness. Doping helped him win the races, and his titles were eventually stripped.

Anti-American media had long accused Armstrong of being a cheater. They knew he had to be dishonest because so many people were cheating in cycling, which back then was dirtier than Las Vegas politics, and Armstrong was still beating all of them.

We found out just how corrupt cycling was when all the rats started to sing like a canary and accept immunity deals when they were squeezed by the feds.

After years of denying the allegations, Armstrong finally came clean in 2013.

Now, he is seen a disgraceful figure, and that is too bad.

While Armstrong no longer has any involvement with the Livestrong Foundation, it is still helping cancer patients. The foundation recently shifted its focus to back companies involved in improving patient care.

We can never forget that Armstrong won those races, and we cannot forget the cheating. We also cannot forget that Alex Rodriguez used steroids to be a better hitter for the Yankees.

However, Rodriguez is now a likeable television character — well, kind of — on ESPN and FOX. Armstrong has disappeared from the face of the Earth.

A-Rod does not have the story of inspiration and hope like Armstrong, either.

Armstrong was such an inspirational figure to so many when they needed it the most. To those people, it does not matter that Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles no longer count.

Even if he cheated to beat a racing field of cheaters, he is still a hero to them.

Just like with Armstrong, Max’s courage will be a strength and inspiration for years to come. Whenever a child is sick or injured, the story of Max Strong will be undoubtably told, and it will help.

The courage Max has shown over the last 21 months will give us all a lifetime of encouragement.

If Sports Illustrated someday breaks a story that shows that Max used the “cream” and the “clear” to help him hit .378 while playing, basically with one eye, for the Butte Muckers last summer, it will not make a lick of difference.

He will forever be our hero.

— Bill Foley, who still does not like Alex Rodriguez, writes a column that usually appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. He plans to write more frequently during the coronavirus lockdown. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.

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