4-year-old inspires Buckeyes

Ohio State drums up support as boy battles leukemia

  • Joshua-Chambers

    Joshua Chambers, a 4-year-old boy with leukemia, with his father, Jeremy, who grew up in Perrysburg.

  • Joshua Chambers, a 4-year-old boy with leukemia, with his father, Jeremy, who grew up in Perrysburg.
    Joshua Chambers, a 4-year-old boy with leukemia, with his father, Jeremy, who grew up in Perrysburg.

    The 4-year-old boy who has galvanized the Ohio State football team lives in a home divided.

    As Joshua Chambers fights leukemia, he usually does so wearing scarlet or blue — the colors of his parents’ favorite colleges.

    Jeremy Chambers grew up in Perrysburg, where his parents’ love for OSU runs so thick that they continue to plop sympathy cards in the mailbox of their Michigan-slanted neighbors when the Buckeyes win The Game.

    His wife, Mina, went to Florida, thus explaining the Gators half of the Christmas tree in their Orlando, Fla., house and her distaste for Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer.

    “It was unforgivable for her for a long time after Urban [left Florida],” Jeremy said with a laugh.

    Then life interfered. Of all the acts of kindness that have uplifted Joshua, none have meant more than those by the Buckeyes’ football team — including linebacker Joshua Perry and Meyer.

    A bond that began with a serendipitous connection — one of Jeremy Chambers’ former classmates in Perrysburg teaches at the same suburban Columbus elementary school as Perry’s mother — has since grown into something more.

    Jeremy Chambers wishes everyone could have seen the smile that washed over his son’s face as he lay in a hospital bed with a fever and an aching stomach earlier this month.

    During his fight with leu­ke­mia, Joshua Chambers, 4, has inspired linebacker Jo­shua Perry and the rest of the OSU football team.
    During his fight with leu­ke­mia, Joshua Chambers, 4, has inspired linebacker Jo­shua Perry and the rest of the OSU football team.

    Perry had already helped more than he could know. Joshua proudly told everyone he had a friend on the Ohio State football team, and he beamed when he received a pint-sized version of Perry’s scarlet No. 37 jersey.

    “It’s just like yours, daddy,” he told Jeremy Chambers, who owns a No. 5 Buckeyes jersey.

    But on this recent day, with Joshua beginning a 24-hour stay in the emergency room, Perry wanted to do something special. He texted several of his teammates, asking them to make a video message for Joshua. “I just need 30 seconds,” he said.

    And so the messages poured in. There was Perry telling Joshua, “Get well, be brave. We’re pulling for you, man.” Then Raekwon McMillan and Darron Lee and Curtis Grant and Devan Bogard and Doran Grant and Craig Fada.

    “Be strong, man,” said Lee, a sophomore linebacker. “You’re going to get through it. You’re going to keep fighting. Go Bucks.”

    Added Fada, a junior linebacker: “Everything’s going to be all right, bud.”

    The videos arrived one after the other on the Chambers’ iPad in the hospital.

    “His face would light up,” Mina Chambers said. “He’d say, ‘‍I got another message from the Buckeyes.’ He’d play the same one over and over again until he got the next one.”

    As a starter for one of the nation’s top football programs, Perry felt it was the least he could do. Heck, he had no choice, the little boy he had never met cranking the vise grip on his heart tighter by the day.

    “It’s been an emotional relationship,” Perry said. “Knowing the smallest things mean the most is something special. ... It really puts you in a position to help a lot of people out, and that’s why we talk about paying it forward all the time. You’re basically responsible to pay forward in these situations.”

    Jeremy Chambers called the support overwhelming.

    Now 36 and the marketing director for a pediatric neurology practice, he had moved from Perrysburg to Florida eight years ago in search of a change after a divorce. He married Mina, and life seemed perfect until the day that it was not. In February, 2013, Joshua was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

    The news flattened the family. For the next year, they watched the chemotherapy devastate Joshua’s immune system, leaving a boy usually overflowing with life in a veritable bubble.

    Yet through it all, they felt blessed. Joshua gave his parents the strength they needed, refusing to let them worry — the nausea and headaches and poisons and steroids coursing through his body be damned.

    “You see him when he’s hurting and he’s not doing good, but then he sees you worried and he tries to smile,” Mina Chambers said. “You’re trying to be strong for him, but you can’t hide some emotions. He’s the one trying to help me.”

    The illness also gave the family a platform. In addition to raising money to help pay for Joshua’s care, it launched the Be Brave Foundation to provide financial aid to Orlando-area families with children battling cancer.

    Among those following Joshua’s fight on Facebook was Jana Covert, a 1996 Perrysburg graduate who had known Jeremy Chambers since their elementary school days at Woodland. A first-grade teacher at Walnut Creek in Galena, Ohio, Covert shared the story with co-worker Georgette Perry and then Perry’s son.

    Not surprisingly, Perry wanted in. The same player who recently brought along teammate Camren Williams — the son of former Toledo star lineman Brent Williams — into the school for a presentation on bullying and then danced with the students to Pharrell’s “Happy” soon counted the boy 1,000 miles as a friend.

    He kept in close touch with the family, sending a signed photo and his support while Jeremy Chambers replied with updates and home videos and a box of 50 “Be Brave” wristbands. Perry has worn his every day and shared the rest with his teammates. Covert called Perry “just a really good kid with a good heart.”

    “It’s unimaginable the courage [Joshua] has shown to be able to go through what he went through,” said Perry, who grew up in Holland before moving to Galena in the fourth grade. “Even when I feel bad about myself, it really can’t be that bad, because I know Joshua doesn’t feel sorry for himself.”

    Today Joshua is in remission, having declared, “I kicked cancer’s butt.” He will continue to undergo maintenance chemo for the next two years, but a shred of normalcy has returned.

    This year, the Chambers family will make its first trip to Ohio Stadium to watch Joshua’s favorite player and, yes, favorite team. Meyer last week invited the family to a game as his guest.

    “When he reached out, I’m thinking, ‘‍I can’t hate [Meyer] anymore,’ ” Mina Chambers said, laughing. “Maybe I can dislike him a little bit. I’ve been telling people I don't want to see his true colors as a nice guy.

    “But as a mom, the support from Ohio State has been amazing.”

    Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.