Fulton resident and cancer survivor Tim Conners experienced a dream day earlier this week amongst New England celebrities and athletes at the fifth annual Joe Andruzzi & Friends Golf Tournament.
Conners attended the event, held at the Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth, Mass., at the request of Joe Andruzzi, three-time Super Bowl champion and 10-year NFL veteran, who founded the organization following his own successful cancer battle.
Conners was on-hand to serve as the Foundation’s special guest speaker.
April 3, 2010, Conners was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia and began his first chemotherapy treatment on the very same day.
A star athlete and football player, Conners soon lost his vision and was required to spend a year in isolation as his immune system recovered.
During his speech to a star-studded room of more than 200 attendees, he spoke of his personal battle and his grueling journey to recovery.
Conners has since recovered from the disease and will graduate from high school today.
The Joe Andruzzi Foundation has recognized Conners as one of their “(Up)Beat” heroes — one who is an inspiration and is grateful for all that he has in his life, though much was taken from him. The foundation’s approach to the fight against cancer is not only to beat cancer, but to (Up)Beat it — to approach the disease with a positive attitude and a sense of humor.”
“Cancer may have taken a lot of things away from me, including my sight, but it will never take my vision.”
That is a phrase that Fulton’s Tim Conners lives by on a daily basis. That also happens to be his yearbook quote.
A little over three years ago, the G. Ray Bodley High School senior was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Treatments began immediately and by the fall of 2010, he was given a lifesaving bone marrow transplant from his older brother, Mike P. Conners.
His parents are Betsy Conners, an administrator with the Fulton School City District, and Mike N. Conners; a former gym teacher and long time wrestling and football coach for Fulton, who is now an administrator with the Oswego School District.
After the long hard battle with cancer, Conners had to make some major life adjustments due to the fact that he became blind during the process. He had also missed a large part of life in high school as a result of his treatments and recovery.
“I currently have a TVI (a teacher of the visually impaired), a mobility specialist, a case manager, a one-on-one aide who goes to classes with me, and a counselor through my school now,” he said.
As far as plans after graduation, Conenrs noted, “Over the summer, I plan on attending a program at Le Moyne College sponsored by NYS Commission for the Blind for approximately four weeks. While I am there, I am going to learn what it is like to live on a college campus and learn what I will need to know before I start college on my own. In the fall, I plan on delaying admission to Ithaca College for one semester so I can attend the Carroll Center for the Blind in Newton, Mass. for approximately 22 weeks. This program will provide me with all the skills I need to become independent and to be successful in life.”
He continued, “After my time at the Carroll Center is done, I will begin my college career at Ithaca College. I am not 100 percent sure if I know what I want to do yet, but that is part of the reason I chose Ithaca because they have an Exploratory Program that will help me figure that out. Unfortunately, I will lose most of those services (that he currently has in high school), but I think it is important in my journey towards independence. I will still receive supports such as mobility training from New York State and support from the disability office in Ithaca. The disability office offerings is another great reason that I decided to go there.”
In his life after cancer, Conners has now become the guest of honor at many local service oriented functions and fund-raisers such as the United Way, Make a Wish, Lions Club, and Rotary.
As with many teenagers, public speaking was not his cup of tea during his life before cancer. After going through what he has gone through these past few years, this is no longer a nerve wrecking experience.
During his speeches, he openly discusses his battles and how in the new phase of his life, will do what needs to be done and takes a “no excuses” approach to whatever his goals are in life now.
He is currently ranked eighth in his class, is a member of the National Honor Society, received numerous academic awards and has an overall grade point average of 98. He also played football last fall and just finished track and field.
He also has the distinction of being both prom king and homecoming king.
He also had a strong desire to return to the wrestling mat for his senior year. “Wrestling had always been a part of my life,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let cancer and blindness interfere with that.”
This sport has been a major feature of his family’s life since his father and uncle were standouts for Baldwinsville High School during the 1970s and 1980s. The older Mike Conners ended his Fulton Wrestling coaching career in 2012 and his brother Pat has just finished his time as the head wrestling coach at South Jefferson High School. The younger Mike Conners graduated a few years ago.
For competitors in wrestling with limited or no vision, there is an alternative style that is used where the two wrestlers for the most part, have to remain in close physical contact.
For example, whenever they are in the neutral position, they stand facing each other and have to have one palm up and one palm down with the opponents’ hands connecting before the whistle blows.
When asked if this took some getting used to, Conners replied, “Yes, because not only did I have to deal with wrestling without vision, but my body was still very weak, so I was unable to do some of the stuff I had done before.”
His most memorable wrestling moments this past season?
His first match at the Blindmen’s Tournament at Cicero-North Syracuse High School and when he received the team leadership award at the Fulton Wrestling Banquet.
“It felt great to win the Ken Julian Award, to be recognized for all the hard work I put in,” he said. “Not only do my brother and I share some the same bone marrow now, but we were both recipients of this prestigious honor.”
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