LIBERTY — Rob James knew the tears were coming. He just didn’t know how quickly they’d arrive.
Of course, he said, it didn’t take long.
James, an assistant baseball and basketball coach at Liberty North, diagnosed with a form of sarcoma in September, was recognized at the annual “Dig for a Cure” volleyball match between Liberty and Liberty North on Oct. 17, at Liberty North.
“When I first walked in the Fieldhouse door, I don’t know how many, but a huge number of former and current baseball players were wearing matching t-shirts that said ‘ready for battle’ and had a yellow ribbon on it with my name and a home plate,” James said. “That was completely unexpected, so the crying started immediately.”
James was recognized ahead of the varsity match between the crosstown rivals.
“It is a difficult thing to be able to stand out there and be vulnerable like that, so the fact that he was able to do that it showed a lot about his character,” Eagles coach Katie Dowden said. “He didn’t really want to do it at first. Anytime you’re going through a fight like this you don’t want it to be about you, you want it to be about the fight and helping others.”
“I’m not the center-of-attention guy,” James said. “I like to talk, but I don’t like to be the center of attention. But I’m so grateful for coach Dowden for including me, for the baseball and basketball staff for getting the word out to get guys there. Half my neighbors showed up. It fills those reservoirs; it really does.”
About those reservoirs. James said he kept his battle fairly private ahead of Dowden’s invite. He works in law from home during the daytime and coaches Liberty North student-athletes in the afternoons/evenings.
James’ public battle has allowed him to receive endless support that is only motivating him.
“Every single message is a pick-me-up,” he said. “It has made me want to reach out to others who are going through a tough time as well.”
Now, James is approaching his battle as an opportunity to practice what he’s been preaching.
“I’ve spent years coaching and telling kids that there’s two things that they can control — your effort and your attitude. That’s it,” James said. “When you have cancer it’s the same way. I can’t control what happens with the radiation or how a surgery goes or whether or not I’m going to have chemo after the surgery. But I can control my effort and my attitude.”
“He’s known in the community and obviously seeing his current and former players there, you can tell he means a lot here,” Dowden said. “It says a lot about the impact he’s made on his community and Liberty North.”
It’s a community that’s on the forefront of James’ mind as he goes through his fight. Even if that does mean occasional tears.
“This experience has really opened my eyes,” he said. “It was a pretty overwhelming event and not one that I will forget. If I have a bad day, I can remember back to that night and turn it around pretty quickly.”