Faith fuels impressive comeback

After beating cancer, Bobby Colantonio shines in collegiate track meet

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Bobby Colantonio was a national champion in the hammer throw. 

In high school, he set records and then smashed his own records. He dominated the competition, recording distances that completely overshadowed other student-athletes. As a junior, he finished fifth at the world championships. And as a senior, Bobby won a national title in the hammer — his best throw at nationals was nearly 30 feet farther than that of the second place finisher. He accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama.

But all his successes took a back seat to his health shortly after he graduated from Barrington High School. 

A physical examination at the University of Alabama in Aug. 2016 revealed a tumor on Bobby's femur. 

What he thought was muscle pain or wear and tear from throwing was cancer — Ewing sarcoma. Doctors said the cancer had already spread to his hip and lungs.

That news devastated Bobby, his family and friends, and many in the track and field community, and it served as the ultimate challenge for the three-time state champion and relentless competitor.

"At first I felt like I was hit in the head with a baseball bat. I didn’t know what to think or say," said Bobby. "But after getting over the diagnosis I was ready to get to work. I was faced with the toughest challenge of my life and I was ready to take it head on."

Fueled by his faith in God, Bobby began an impressive journey back from the brink — defeating cancer, restoring his strength, and returning to competitive track and field. 

Late last month, Bobby Colantonio had a throw of 21.2 meters at the Bob Pollock Invitational track meet and became the number one ranked freshman weight thrower in college track and field in the United States. The University of Alabama freshman was also named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week and is currently the only freshman to rank among the top-39 collegiate throwers nationally.

In his words 

Bobby recently shared his story with the Barrington Times, detailing many of the struggles he faced since his diagnosis.

Fighting cancer

"Going through treatment there was nothing I could do besides stay positive, be smiling and happy, and most of all the power of prayer," said Bobby. "I was fortunate enough that I had an incredible support group between family, friends, people in the track and field community I have never met or talked to before, all reaching out to me showing their love and affection.

"It meant the world to me to see I had so many people behind me and in my corner … it was friends hanging out with me for the little time I was home and not in the hospital, visits in the hospital, text messages, people asking how my day was, just a constant show of care from everyone I knew.  

"It made me so happy every day and I knew I had a lot of people counting on me to get through this. Which is why I never ever lost sight of my Olympic aspirations…"

Possible amputation

"At the time of diagnosis I was looking at amputation or reconstructive surgery where I would have most of my leg being metal.. But after 12 weeks of treatment, when it was time to rescan and see how the cancer had progressed or regressed, I was blessed with the news that I had made an incredible step forward ... the disease had responded so well to treatment that I was offered the option to go the route of radiation therapy and still preserve my bone.

"To me that was a sign from God, He had answered my prayers and has opened up the way back on track to the Olympics. 

"That is my fuel every day when I wake up. I was blessed to be able to be put in the position to make a comeback and I will not waste it.  

"That is what got me through the days that were tough physically and mentally during training. Because there was plenty with how weak I was from treatment. 

"I also kept in mind that all the personal relationships I made at Hasbro Children's Hospital between doctors, nurses, other staff and more importantly, other children going though the same fight that I was going through, were all looking up to me and counting on me. 

"The children inspired me to always have a smile and be positive no matter what because regardless, if they were sick or hooked up to IV bags, they were always running around and playing happily. That smile, that joy, that happiness, is something I made sure not to lose, it wouldn't be fare to the children or me if I was miserable.  

"As I learned the trick from smiling and happiness from the little children, I hope to spread the power of the mind and positivity along with my belief in God as another tool in our belt to get through this fight. 

"Every day I pick up a hammer I do it in the name of the Lord, as He has given me the strength before and continues to."

Faith during the fight

"So one of the things that has helped me through this whole process is living a Christ-centered life. I always was a Christ follower and for the most part was pretty active about it. But going through a life-threatening illness makes you realize who is in control. 

"For the most part, actually, all of treatment was a waiting game. All I could do was receive the treatments and pray that the medicine would work and I would be healed. 

"The biggest part of my journey that involved the most change in my life was the moment when I relinquished control and submitted to God. In that year of treatment I was out of control, something that was out of my comfort zone. For the most part, my athletic career I had the control, I could make the technical changes, get stronger, move faster, jump higher...but going through treatment I knew I had to affirm to myself where I am with my faith and relinquish over control to God. 

"From this point on I focused on a Christ-centered life where everything I did and was doing was for Him and His glory…"

Long road back

"It has definitely been a struggle, one that makes me appreciate how far I got in high school because I have to now put in all that same work and even more because of how much my body had decayed, atrophied, and became weak from the intense chemo and radiation. 

"Every day, especially when I started up lifting and trying to regain my technique and specific strength of throwing, I had to stay positive and not worry about how much weight or lack of weight was on the bar while lifting. 

"It was tough to see that all the work I had put in, over the four years of high school had been taken away and I was pushed back to below-average strength levels. 

"It took a lot of tedious time of no weight and a lot of reps before I could even use the 45-pound bar in the weight room. But every day that I pushed through was one day closer to my goal of Olympic rings…

"But being able to get after it again and train was an incredible feeling. It was something I hadn’t felt in forever. I was instantly hooked again more than I was before. There was a lot of struggles with training from being weak and out of shape along with the lasting side effects I have from chemo and radiation. But, as I did through treatment, I stayed positive with new my end goal and I didn’t want to stop reaching for it."

Return to competition

"It was incredible! It really didn’t set in until I opened up my college career on Jan. 11. 

"I damn near cried after my first throw in the meet, going up to my coach afterwards. It was an incredible feeling and was amazing to see my name on the scoreboard with Alabama next to it and a new personal best distance.  

"That day was all for the Glory of God. I was blessed with a new beginning and a chance to take it as far as I want to."

Those who have helped

"I owe it all to my friends, family, and the staff at Hasbro Children's Hospital for supporting me through everything and helping me get through the days that seemed impossible. I've had so much help along the way from people reaching out and checking in, it's too long to list and that's an incredible feeling."

Future goals

"My goals this year are top 3 in the SEC indoor and outdoor and top 8 at NCAAs indoor and outdoor. 

"Long term goals are making more international teams representing the US again and, most importantly, making it to the Olympics."

Why he competes

"Someone once asked me after a meet in high school who I was doing this for. And I had no idea how to answer that question. 

"Well, I finally found that answer dealing with my battle of cancer. I knew that God had a plan for me from the start, but dealing with what I went through brought me closer to Him and strengthened my faith in Him. Living a Christ-centered life is another way to every day get closer and closer to God and have Him show us the way through good and bad times.  

"I know that if I am open to it and looking for it, He will show me the way, and it is up to me to seize the day and make the most of it. 

"With that I leave you with Jeremiah 29:11 'For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'."

Veteran coach celebrates thrower's return

Longtime throwing coach Bob Gourley could not be happier for Bobby Colantonio. 

Mr. Gourley worked with Bobby at Barrington High School and was devastated back in 2016 after Bobby was diagnosed with cancer. 

But the former Eagle's impressive comeback has made Mr. Gourley very happy.

"It's wonderful seeing Bobby back training and competing, especially at the level is he is at," said Mr. Gourley. "It is great to seeing him doing what he loves to do — physical activity, training, setting goals, working tirelessly to attain those goals."

When asked what he thought made Bobby such a relentless competitor, Mr. Gourley replied: "Bobby is a very strong young man. Not just physically, but probably more importantly mentally strong. When visiting him at the Hasbro Children's Hospital he was always very optimistic and positive. He is a very dedicated person who always puts forth his best effort, sets high realistic standards, and gives 100 percent to reach his goals. With his drive and determination Bobby will have a very successful future!"

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