Brody Ferguson swims for a state title Saturday, less than a week after learning his nearly life-long fight with cancer isn’t over.
“I just found out a couple days ago that I have cancer again. They think it’s a different one this time because it’s in my lungs. They want to start me on (chemotherapy) and I’ll have to miss three months of school because of it,” the El Capitan freshman said. “But all of that happens after state, so I really want to go and make the most of this weekend.”
If he wins his races at the Paralympic CIF State Swimming and Diving Championships in Clovis, he’ll bring home the first state title in his school’s history.
It’s a daunting challenge for the Merced teen who already swims with one leg, the result of a previous fight with cancer that ended when doctors amputated his right leg just below the knee.
“Because the cancer is in my lungs, I know there’s a chance I may never be able to swim again,” he said.
But Ferguson has spent his whole life beating the odds.
Long before his battles with cancer, Ferguson endured dozens of surgeries on both feet to address the clubfoot he was born with.
But Ferguson always remained undaunted and refused to let his challenges prevent him from achieving his goals.
So when he was declared healthy going into his freshman year, Ferguson joined the El Capitan water polo, wrestling and swim teams.
“I found out about the para events during water polo season and worked hard to get my times where I could qualify,” Ferguson said. “I’m excited. I think it’s going to be really special. I don’t want to speculate on anyone’s health, but usually when I compete, it’s against fully able-bodied guys. State is going to be neat because you know everyone there has gone through something similar and had to overcome some tough things.”
Ferguson admitted his clubbed feet kept him from having much of an athletic background, including swimming. What he possesses is natural athleticism, a strong upper body and a drive to be better.
“It was about this time a year ago that I received an email from Brody’s mom explaining his situation and asking what sport I thought would be best for him,” El Capitan coach Rodd Parker said. “I thought water polo would be a good fit because his body would be balanced in the water and we’ve all seen swimmers with one leg before. He took to it quickly. He’s a good athlete and he understood the sport, but he also worked really hard at it.
“By the end of the season, if he wasn’t starting, he was one of the first guys off of the bench.
“He was just named the Gaucho Swimmer of the Year at our awards banquet and it’s not because he has one leg. It’s because everyone sees the extra work he puts in. If he just went out and swam with one leg, it would still be great, but Brody has a desire to be the best.”
Brody’s mother, Marie Ferguson, said it’s been one of the best years of his life.
“I think he was just so excited to be a part of something,” Marie Ferguson said. “He’s never really gotten to compete in sports because of his clubbed feet. Because of the surgeries, he was always in a wheelchair or a cast or on crutches. Of course, the surgeries are how we discovered the cancer in his leg in the first place.
“This new diagnosis came out of nowhere. Me and his dad are obviously worried, but Brody refuses to let it get him down. He won’t let cancer define who he is or prevent him from living his life. He’s my definition of what a hero is.”
Ferguson swam a variety of freestyles for the Gauchos, taking on the 200 and 500 as well as the sprints. Parker said starts and turns were his initial deterrents as he navigated through finding his balance on the blocks. He’s consulted and studied fellow amputee and former prep swimming star Tye Dutcher for tips and the freshman became smoother at as the season wore on.
“I didn’t come from a swim background at all, so it’s not like I needed to learn how to do it all over again when I lost my leg,” Ferguson said. “The big thing for me is I don’t really kick. I haven’t really figured out how to add that yet, so I’m pretty much all upper body. I think my best event is probably the 50 because I don’t have to hold anything back. Pacing myself on the 100 can be a problem sometimes. Sometimes I wear myself out with a little too much energy on the first 50.
“I’m pretty excited going into the weekend. The times of the guy seeded in front of me are just a couple seconds difference. Hopefully, after you shave, put on your cap and a fancy swimsuit, you make up the difference.”
Ferguson handles himself with poise, staying focused even in the wake of devastating news.
“You have to stay positive about it,” Ferguson said. “What else are you going to do? I’ve been diagnosed with cancer three times. The last one I had, had like a 90-percent mortality rate. Even before I had cancer, my legs have all kinds of scars from surgeries on my feet.
“I’ve really enjoyed myself this year. That’s what I’m focused on. I’ve got the chance to make school history and that’s what I’m going to try and do.”