Two years ago, Jorge Hernandez, then a sophomore and a varsity football player at El Monte High School in the San Gabriel Valley, received very difficult news. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, two months ago, in full remission from his disease following treatment at City of Hope Cancer Center, he was awarded the prestigious California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Spirit of Sport Award.
The award recognizes excellence in scholastic activities, community service and leadership. According to CIF Executive Director Marie M. Ishida, the award is presented to "student athletes who have demonstrated great sportsmanship, the purest form of competition. Recipients understand that a positive attitude and teamwork should exist throughout sports, and they realize that winning at all costs is not really winning. The same spirit they show in athletics carries over into all aspects of life."
Last year, while receiving treatment, Hernandez was regularly on the sidelines cheering for his team. Then last April, his physician, Cancer Center Associate Director Smita Bhatia, M.D., M.P.H., gave him the news he was awaiting. He was cleared to rejoin the team for his senior season. Last fall, the linebacker was third on his team in tackles, with 75. Today, he competes for his school’s varsity wrestling team; he has also participated in track and field.
Through his treatment, Hernandez remained involved in the school’s Academy Program and maintains a 3.5 grade-point average. He has previously received his school’s Perfect Attendance and Scholar-Athlete Awards and, last year, he received the City of El Monte Leadership Award, which was presented by the town’s mayor.
Hernandez is using his experience as a cancer survivor positively, mentoring junior high school age cancer patients at City of Hope. "I want kids to have the opportunity to talk to someone their age about their diseases and treatments," said Hernandez.
A few days before the Bowl Coalition Series Championship Game held at the Rose Bowl, Hernandez and several City of Hope pediatric patients spent time talking with head coach of the National Champion University of Texas Longhorns, Mack Brown, and Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player Vince Young, as well as USC Head Coach Pete Carroll and USC All-Americans Reggie Bush and Matt Leinert. Both coaches told Hernandez that they were inspired by his story.