Three brothers played catch with their father in a big backyard, overlooking a dead cornfield. “Butter fingers!” yelled Ryan Bradley, the father, after his son Eli dropped the football. The dead leaves crackled as the kids ran to catch the ball. The cold brisk wind of the fall day had them in Under Armour sweatshirts and shorts. Smiles and laughter were spread throughout the family. This is where one finds Luke Bradley, a warrior, a fighter, and the strongest 13-year-old boy anyone will ever meet.
Luke has been a fighter since February of 2011 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. He has been resilient in his fights and has been called a “miracle” by many of his doctors. Luke’s first battle with leukemia lasted for two years and is finally in remission. During this battle, his family made the tough decision to move from Granby, Mass., where Luke was known best, to a small suburban community in South Hadley, Mass at the end of 2012.
The move was hard for Luke. He left his friends behind and became the “new sick kid” at school.
The transition was tiring at first, but the fighter in Luke didn’t let it get to him.
In March of 2013, things really began to turn around. Luke was drafted by the Springfield College Pride Football program and became their Team IMPACT player. It was the start of what has become a crucial bond for both sides.
Through his four and a half years with the football team, Luke has had some of the happiest moments of his life, and has faced some of the darkest. One thing that hasn’t changed over this time is his undying love for football, Springfield College, and his mindset of “faith, hope and love.” Luke’s father Ryan was a former high school and college football player. Football has always been a staple in Luke’s life, from playing catch in their backyard to standing on the sidelines with the football team. Luke breathes football.
Being a member of the team has been influential for Luke. “To be able to have him be a part of something that makes him feel connected to the sport he loves, it’s good, otherwise he’d feel trapped,” said Ryan. The Pride have adopted Luke to a brotherhood that is unlike any other.
Through these bleak times, Luke has developed an attitude that is unmatched and a maturity that compares to many adults. Head coach of the Pride football team Mike Cerasulo said, “It’s never a ‘why me attitude,’ it’s an ‘I’ll crush this next thing’ and ‘I’ll beat this’ and ‘I’ll move on to the next thing’ and I’ll beat that and you know once it’s all finished with that, he will climb another mountain.”
Luke’s “faith, hope, and love” is what has carried him through this grueling journey of life. The family lives by the mantra. “Faith means that we believe,” said Luke. “Hope means that I can and I will.” And Ryan finished the mantra off by saying, “Love’s the glue that keeps it all together.”
While speaking about hope, Luke showed his emotion and his fight, saying “I just think about my family and what it would be like without me for them.”
Luke is facing a major bone marrow transplant that is set to happen before Thanksgiving. He has continued to battle day in and day out and with the help of the team and their encouragement is currently in remission for the third time in his life.
The transplant is a special one as Luke’s father will be the complete donor of the transplant. Ryan said, “You sit as a dad and you watch this for so long and you say I would do anything to take this from him and finally I have an opportunity to do that in a different kind of way that it is really special.”
“It’s a bit scary that I have to have it, but I feel like it’s going to help,” said Luke. “I’m worried something bad will happen to my dad.” Luke’s father assures him that everything will go as planned and that nothing bad will happen.
Since Luke’s first relapse he has been slowly struggling to get back to the health he was at during his remission in 2013. At peak health, Luke was playing football in South Hadley as a safety for their youth league in 2014.
Today, Luke struggles with walking and balance. He is still optimistic about his health and never seems defeated when he cannot complete a task. He is still the same football-loving teenager, but he is just battling to get to the health he was at from 2013 to early 2015.
At Luke’s most difficult point, he was down to 50 pounds, and could barely walk or talk. But his optimistic look on life never changed. Through therapy and a lot of “faith, hope, and love,” Luke has continued this grueling fight.
The leaps he has made to get to where he is now are tremendous. He still doesn’t fit the look of a typical teenager, but his strength is unmatched. Cerasulo said, “He’s gonna fight this and he’s gonna overcome this and this is just gonna be down the road something to look back on.”
Luke inspires the team and Springfield College. What Luke brings and what he embodies as a person is just what Springfield College needs. He would be the perfect fit for the college in the future. The mantra of “faith, hope and love” ties in with the mission of Springfield College “spirit, mind and body.” Luke said, “I’ve always wanted to go to Springfield because my mom went there and I’ve always loved football.”
During his first relapse, arguably the hardest time for the Bradley family, came one of Luke and Ryan’s happiest moments of their Team IMPACT journey and their bond with Springfield College. After the news of Luke’s relapse and fight against meningitis, the Pride football team visited him and his family at Boston’s Children Hospital.
With Luke spending nearly 15 months straight in the hospital, life was harrowing. A lot of Luke’s memory has been taken away from him over the years due to the multiple neurological surgeries, seizures, bacterial meningitis, and chemotherapy treatments.
Luke struggled to recall many of the memories he had held from 2013 to his first relapse. “So much of the last few years have been taken from him that we are just starting to have memories again,” said Ryan.
Luke has created bonds that will last a lifetime. In particular is a connection with former player and graduate of Springfield College Bryan MacDonald. He was on the team when Luke was first drafted and the two became close quickly. MacDonald would take Luke and his brothers out to eat, most memorably at Chuck E Cheese’s. The two developed a bond stronger than that of a player and a child. The two became friends.
When MacDonald learned that Luke had first relapsed, he visited Luke at Boston’s Children Hospital every weekend. Luke’s father Ryan said, “He and MacDonald have been friends the whole time. He came to visit him at Boston’s Children Hospital many, many times.”
The visits gave them both something to look forward to at the end of the week. “I wanted to have a friend there for him to rely on,” said MacDonald.
Luke’s bond with the team has been a unique one. From spending countless hours with the team practicing, to leading the team out on game day, to spending time with his favorite players, the bond he has built with the team has been inspiring.
Current senior cornerback Luke Jimenez has created a strong bond over time with his namesake. At last year’s Team IMPACT Gala, Jimenez truly got to spend time with Luke one on one. “He has really opened my eyes to valuing life and truly embracing every single day,” said Jimenez. “He’s only 13 years old and he’s been through more than in my 21 years of life.”
Luke stays in contact with the team frequently even when he can’t visit. Jimenez said, “I talk to him at least once a week.”
Luke spent a majority of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Pride football team, but after his relapse, Luke had to focus on his fight against leukemia, and bacterial meningitis. The team rallied behind Luke. Even though he could not be with the team physically, his impact was bigger than ever.
This football season has been a historic one for the Pride as they’re looking ahead to finishing off an undefeated season Saturday afternoon against MIT at Stagg Field. The season has been dedicated to Luke and the team has rallied under #LukeStronger. #LukeStronger is written on the boards of the football offices and on the social media of all the football teams pages. “The impact he’s had on our players and our coaches, it has been life-changing,” Coach Cerasuolo said.
With a 10-0 record looming in the background and a potential bid to the NCAA Division III football playoffs this team is under a lot of pressure. The season has been filled with highs on the field, but what has truly brought them together is the unification Luke brings to the team.
Since the beginning of the season, Luke has been an x-factor. Jimenez said, “In August during the preseason when he first showed up for practice, we’re in the dog days of camp, everybody’s morale is low and you’ve been going for a week and a half and your body’s breaking down and the second we saw him walk onto the field, it’s the first time seeing him after a couple months and everyone’s spirits and morale shot through the roof.”
This Saturday, Luke and his family will be in the stands cheering on their beloved Pride as their quest for an undefeated regular season will conclude. It would be the first undefeated season in 52 years.
A kid who has been through hell and back walks beside a team who has stood behind him through it all. Together they could potentially make history this Saturday.
“He’s done so much,” said Cerasuolo. “He’s changing lives, and he’s changing the world and sometimes without him even knowing it.”