I am here — a thousand miles from home, alone for the holiday — for a football game. UConn vs. Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl, the day after Christmas.
Nothing more, nothing less.
Ian Cole Lockwood might be appreciate that. He was, after all, a football player and a football fan.
I also have a feeling, though, that Ian would appreciate a lot more about this holiday weekend. In short, he would love to be with his family again. He would love to be able to see his friends again. And they would, without a doubt, give anything in this world to have their son and friend back.
This morning I was driving on some non-distinctive Florida road between St. Petersburg and Clearwater when I found myself behind an SUV, sitting at a red light, which seem to last an eternity here in the Sunshine State.
Through the back window I could see Christmas presents piled up high.
No surprise there. Tis the season, after all.
On the left side of the rear window, I saw a sticker.
On top and bottom were the words, “We lost a son … but we gained an angel.”
The son’s name was included. Ian Cole Lockwood.
Ian was born on December 21, 1992. He should have turned 23 years old on Monday.
Unfortunately, he died after a battle with cancer on Jan. 28, 2011.
His family and friends will be remembering the fifth anniversary of his passing next month.
I don’t know why I jotted Ian’s name down on a notebook in my car. I don’t know why I wanted to know what happened to him.
It was a family that appeared to be making a holiday trip, ready to spread some cheer, yet in that rear window was a reminder of the devastation they had once felt from what they had lost.
He was 18 years old when he died.
Ian Cole Lockwood lived in Naverre, Fla., which is 484 miles from where I write this. It’s up on the Florida panhandle, far away from the hotel suite I’m calling home for these six days and five nights.
In the summer of 2009, Ian was diagnosed with brain cancer. I can’t imagine what went through the young man’s mind, or how his family handled it all.
I make a living covering high school athletes just Ian — healthy and strong and representing their families and schools and towns with such heart and pride.
From everything I’ve read online, Ian’s school and town rallied around him, too.
According to a story in the Pensacola News Journal, Lockwood went through treatment and some surgeries and by 2010 had been cancer-free.
But in the same vain that Ian never quit, neither did the cancer.
As I researched more about Ian, I learned that one of his biggest supporters was Urban Meyer.
In college football circles, Meyers name is as big as they come.
He coached at Florida — which is where he met Ian — before moving on to Ohio State, where he coaches today.
Coach Meyer struck up a friendship with Ian during his battle with cancer.
“About a year and a half ago, I met Ian, a young man whose love and passion for football is second to none,” Meyer said after Florida won the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2011. “We became very good friends. He had football taken away from him. He’s been with our team a bunch. I asked these guys to do whatever we could possibly do to get a game ball to Ian Lockwood. That meant you had to go four quarters as hard as you possibly can and find a way to bring that ball to brighten someone’s day.”
Meyer presented the game ball to Ian, who died 27 days later.
But there was another side of Ian, away from football, one I discovered by reading a blog called, “Falcon Food” and written by a blogger named, “julianne5” who was enrolled at the U.S. Air Force Academy and used the blog as an English project.
Her little sister was good friends with Ian and gave me insight into the kind of person he was, as well. (You can read her entire blog post about Ian by clicking here).
“He always made me make him a peanut butter sandwich, white bread, no crust, cut into little pieces. My neighbor Ian, my little sister’s best friend since we had moved to Florida when she was 4, he was a pretty special kid,” julianne5 wrote. “We would go to the beach after practice because Ian loved to see the sun go down and because I secretly enjoyed their company more than my own friends. I left for college and was really surprised when leaving his family was as hard as saying goodbye to my own.”
The blog went on to explain how Ian had gone into his senior cancer free and he made it back to the football field.
Then, Julianne5 explained, “He played his last football game on October 8th 2010, and then headed to Gainesville to get a second surgery to remove the tumor. They couldn’t get it all and it had spread to other parts of his brain, they gave him just 6 months to live. He was so strong the entire time, keeping everyone around him at ease.
“He would laugh reading this right now,” julianne5 continued, “tell me how dumb I am for remembering a stupid sandwich instead of his touchdowns or super hot girlfriends, but I don’t know if I’ll ever look at peanut butter the same, I might even make myself one, white bread, no crust, cut into little pieces….”
I write about touchdowns all the time. About baskets scored. Baseballs that are hit. I have written about athletes for 31 years and when I read about this once, strapping standout on the gridiron being summed up by a peanut butter sandwich, I wanted to cry.
OK, fine, I teared up.
But it proved to me once again that these athletes that I’m blessed to cover are such great kids with such great stories about all of them and we really can’t take any of them for granted.
I never had the honor to write about Ian Cole Lockwood until today, and only because I happened to be behind a car that had a sticker honoring his memory.
I can’t do him justice, not in the way Julianne5 could, or those who knew him best could, or those who got to hug him on a daily basis from the day he was born until the day he died.
But during this Christmas season, it’s just another reminder to love everybody who is close to you and never take them for granted.