Less than a week into his family’s July 2011 vacation on idyllic Thunder Bay, Adam Getliff woke up with a sore neck.
On August 1, as he looked forward to his freshman year in high school, Adam turned 15. On August 2, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
“When we told him, ‘you have a blood cancer called leukemia,’ he didn’t blink,” recalled his mother, Sarah. “But then we said, ‘it looks as if you won’t be able to do track and field this year,’ he burst into tears.”
After a failed search for a bone-marrow match, Adam underwent a brief-but-grueling round of chemotherapy to suppress his immune system before an infusion of blood from an anonymously donated umbilical cord on December 1, 2011. After 31 days, the transplant engrafted and began growing new blood cells. Adam spent six weeks in virtual isolation in his room at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, near his home in Holland, MI, and five months overall in the hospital.
There have been hurdles during recovery—a heart issue and pneumonia among them—but Adam has fought his way back, and he will be in the stands at the adidas Grand Prix on May 25 courtesy of Make-A-Wish. It will be his first trip to NYC.
In seventh and eighth grade, Adam ran the 100, 200, and 400 meters for his track team. After losing his entire freshman year to his illness, he began light training with the team this year as he looks forward to his competitive return. Even in the hospital, he got on the treadmill whenever he could.
“I always knew I was going to get back out on the track,” he said. “I can’t wait to gain all my speed back and be the top one again.”
Adam’s favorite athlete is Tyson Gay, with whom he has struck up a Facebook friendship. “He always tried his hardest, and he took a year off and still made the Olympics,” said Adam, now 16. “So I know I can get my speed back, too.”
While in NYC, Adam will get the chance to meet his hero, along with other top athletes; attend a press conference; and join a training session at Icahn Stadium, as well as get some behind-the-scenes glimpses of the action on race day.
He and his family will also get the chance to raise awareness for cord-blood donations.
“That’s what saved Adam’s life,” said his mother.