This Saturday marks the fifth year the OU volleyball team has hosted its annual Pledge for a Cure match. Head coach Santiago Restrepo has built this match into a major part of his program as a way to honor the memory of his late son, Javier.
Javier Restrepo, known by all simply as Javi, passed away at the age of four after battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) since he was just one and a half years old. He experienced a relapse in August 2008 and received the ultimate support from his family, most notably his older brother Diego who contributed bone marrow for a transplant that Javi needed. Javi fought the disease with a tough spirit like a true champion, similar to the passion his father exudes on the sideline.
All funds raised by the Sooner volleyball team and athletic department go to the Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center.
“We have been holding this Pledge for a Cure match since 2009,” said Restrepo. “We have honored my son Javier and raised funds for the Jimmy Everest Center. Every time that we can raise funds for them, they are very appreciative. We go every year to visit children at the Everest Center to be supportive and be positive influences to the young kids that are there suffering from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.”
In its first year, the Sooner’s Pledge for a Cure efforts raised over $10,000 thanks to several major contributions. Since then, thanks to the hard work of Restrepo’s team and family as well as the support of the athletic department, Oklahoma has consistently been able to raise between $2,000-4,000 each year, totaling over $20,000 in the four-year run. Restrepo sees the efforts not only as a way to honor his son, but to provide hope to the families that seek help at the Everest Center.
“Many of the doctors and nurses that are at the Jimmy Everest Center are still the same doctors and nurses from when Javier was there,” recalled Restrepo. “We have a very good and close relationship with the people there.
“Our goal is to give hope to the families that are going through a child’s battle with ALL and to help them stay positive and give them hope that their kid could recover, could be healthy and continue on with a normal life.”
The Oklahoma student-athletes have embraced the fundraising project and immediately recognize it as a part of their program, as much as preseason camp or a routine pass and serve before a match.
“Being able to visit the children at the Jimmy Everest Center is important to our team because we get to see true heroes fighting against cancer and other diseases and be reminded of how strong and courageous they are,” stated senior Sallie McLaurin. “I believe that our team learns so much from each child we meet. They inspire us so much more than we can ever inspire them.”
On Saturday, the Sooners will take the court along with the memory of their coaches’ youngest son. The spirit of the young boy’s enthusiasm and love is carried out each game by his father and the team and on this night it is literally worn on their sleeve as OU will wear a patch to remember Javi, which depicts a cursive letter ‘J’ with a halo at the top and a flower at its center.
“We treat our program and our team like a family and this is part of something that we have to do for family and for each other. The team has helped me throughout this ordeal and I am much appreciative of what they have done and continue to do.”
Saturday will be a challenging match for Oklahoma. The Sooners face the defending champion and No. 1 Texas Longhorns at 6:30 pm. Oklahoma previously fell to Texas, 3-0, back in September. This time around, the Sooners have more to play for. It’s more than just adding a number to the left side of the ledger, but a chance to play one of the top teams at home, in front of a large crowd and play for a boy who is still very much a big part of their program, their family.