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Captain Courageous

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published October 03. 2013 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Marik Tucker of Ledyard, second from left, stands with the Coast Guard Academy men's soccer team Wednesday night during the national anthem. Tucker, who is battling cancer, was named the team's honorary captain for the game against Mitchell College.
Tucker doesn't let his battle with cancer keep him from being part of the team at CGA

New London - The Coast Guard Academy men's soccer team provided the perspiration, hustling its way to a win on Wednesday night.

Marik Tucker, an 11-year-old from Ledyard dealing with cancer, provided the inspiration.

Tucker served as honorary team captain and rooted for his Bears from the bench during a 3-0 shutout of Mitchell College at the Coast Guard Track and Field Complex.

"He's probably more energetic than the team on the bench," senior Carlos Gonzalez said. "He's always screaming and telling us to pick it up. ... He wants us to win more than anybody. He's our number one fan.

"We're lucky to have him."

Tucker has been an important part of the men's soccer family since last spring. He met the Bears through Team IMPACT, an organization that matches children with life-threatening illnesses with college athletic teams.

He was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in August of 2012 shortly after the family moved to Connecticut from Louisiana - his father, George, is in the Navy - and had his right leg amputated last November. He spent the majority of a year at Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital.

He recently completed some aggressive chemotherapy and returned to school.

Born with a hearing impairment, he attends the American School for the Deaf in West Hartford.

"He's been feeling really good," said Kelli, Marik's mother.

"He's still learning how to use his leg, so he has some struggles with that. But he's been doing really, really well. ... He has a great attitude.

"He can't wait to run. The first thing he said when he woke up from surgery was, `where is my running leg?' We're working up to that."

Despite his health issues, Tucker remains upbeat. Cancer took his leg but not his spirit and heart.

"He's always optimistic, no matter what," Gonzalez said. "I've never seen him frown ever.

"The first time we met him when (Richie (Burns), coach (Chris Parsons) and I went to his house, he was smiling the whole time.

"It's incredible to see such strength in him. I don't think anything bothers him in the world. He's just out there happy and living his life."

Tucker rarely sat still on the sidelines Wednesday.

During pre-game, he walked out with the team captains for the coin toss and stood at attention with the starters on the field during the national anthem.

He alternated between sitting in a folding chair and standing - without his crutches - and chatting with the players. He was a good luck charm, as Alexander Lane, Lukas Benedetto and Matt Epperly scored to help Coast Guard improve to 5-3-1 overall.

He enjoyed every minute of it.

"I liked it," Tucker said. "They're a good soccer team. They're friendly."

Of course, Tucker has an open invitation to come back anytime.

He has found a home with the Bears.

"When we leave a game, he talks about the guys for days and days and days," Kelli said. "I went to wake him up one morning for school, they gave him a signed dress hat and he actually was sleeping with it.

"He loves these guys. That's all he talks about."

The Bears have gotten as much if not more out of the relationship.

"You can get very insulated here and it brings real life back into the team and their lives..," Parsons said. "He seems to enjoy it and the guys seem to like him."


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