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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Adversity Throws Thill A Curve, Doesn't Defeat Baseball Spirit

There is no doubt a story behind every name on this year’s roster for the Wisconsin American Legion state all-star game. It just stands to reason that a young man who hits .507 or .430 in Legion ball probably has some interesting things to say about how he acquired such ability.

But sometimes there’s a back-story to the name on the roster that begs to be told; a set of circumstances that led from point A to point B that go deeper than batting average or one’s win/loss record on the mound.

Sometimes that story is such a testament to incredible strength in the face of incredible adversity, it can’t help but put a smile on the face of anyone fortunate enough to come across it.

When Adam Thill was a junior at Peshtigo High, all things were a go. He was a three-sport athlete for the Bulldogs and on track for what one would assume would be nothing short of a bright future.

When the discomfort on the right side of his body first cropped up in the spring of 2010, he shrugged it off as a sore shoulder. Just the type of pain that hits the throwing arm from time to time, no big deal. He went on to play the entire season before noticing a lump where the initial discomfort started.

A biopsy on the lump showed that what Thill initially assumed was nothing more than the discomfort that comes along with pitching games for the Bulldogs was actually Hodgkins Disease. July 2010 marked the diagnosis date and also Adam’s introduction to true adversity.

But fast forward to present day and Thill is still standing. Still pitching and hitting. Still making plans for his future. Still pushing his way through every door that his new companion, adversity, tries to close in his face.

On Sunday, August 19 at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Thill’s field of dreams becomes a reality when he steps out onto the grass of his home state’s Major League Park in front of family and friends and takes the mound for the 2012 North Legion All Stars. The game will take place following the major league contest between the Brewers and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Joining Thill at Miller Park from the area are Aaron Pettit, a centerfielder from Marinette on the North team and Mike Nompleggi, a pitcher from Oconto Falls who will be playing for the South all stars.

To say that the road leading Thill to this point has been a tough one so far would be quite the understatement.

Immediately following the July 2010 diagnosis, Adam underwent five months of chemotherapy. He missed football that year but incredibly, his condition went into remission and he was able to join the Peshtigo High School basketball team for its playoff run.

Adam Thill, one. Extreme adversity, zero, and all is right with the world.

But the start of a new baseball season in Adam’s senior year brought devastating news to the Thill family once again. A check up revealed that the Hodgkins had returned. Adversity was again standing square in the way of Adam’s path forward.

Just like the year before, another round of attacking the cancer was underway immediately with the folks at Bay Area Medical Center. Thill also began seeing specialists in the UW Madison Hospital system who crafted a plan to perform what is known as an autologous bone marrow transplant, taking marrow from one of Adam’s own arms, and using it to fight the Hodgkins.

The procedure was a success. After a grueling month confined to a bed through a difficult recovery process, Adam was sent home.

“He was down and out, flat sick,” explained Adam’s father Rick. “When he had the transplant, it was a combination of radiation, which he never had before, and then extremely strong chemotherapy, then they rolled right into a transplant and to recover from that just wiped him out.”

Those four weeks following the transplant were some of the toughest days of this entire saga for Thill. But he made it through to the other side and was sent home.

Nine months after the transplant date, all signs of the Hodgkins that he had been battling for a year were gone at check up time but doctors suffered yet another setback in their work when they discovered a small growth in Thill’s abdomen area, completely separate from the original cancer.

So once again, the weight of an uncertain medical outlook has been hoisted onto Adam’s shoulders, and onto the shoulders of those close to him. He is again staring down an illness that’s looking to cut his life very short.

Thill returned to Madison for testing and as of now, another bone marrow transplant is one of the options on the table, this time in the form of a biological match from his brother Justin. But a new outpatient treatment involving a protein-based drug, administered through a port inserted in Adam’s chest, has been yielding positive results that could eliminate the need for a second transplant. As a matter of fact, the Thill family got some much-deserved good news just last week as doctors are reporting that the new cancer growth in Adam’s abdomen has regressed significantly.

With all this going on, what’s he doing pitching this weekend at Miller Park in an all star game?

The thing about Adam Thill and his illness that couldn’t be any clearer is this:

The young man is absolutely NOT afraid of cancer.

And his story goes to another level of special once the sources of his strength are revealed.

Adam’s mother, Lori Thill, has also beaten Hodgkins Disease. She beat it 18 years ago when Adam was an infant and she never looked back.

To have that example of perseverance so close at all times has given Adam what he needs to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s critical. She’s been there every step of the way with me through this and I know that she will be going forward,” said Thill when asked how much his mother’s past experience with the very same disease has benefited him so far. “I know that when she beat it, 18 or 19 years ago, the technology they were working with was no way near what they are using now.”

With his mother’s own experience to draw strength from, Adam’s outlook on his situation couldn’t be any more positive. But his well of support doesn’t stop at the front door of the family’s home, as Mrs. Thill is quick to point out.

“The doctors that Adam has worked with have been incredible, both here in Marinette and in Madison,” Lori Thill said of the support Adam is getting. “He’s surrounded by us as well as his extended family, a lot of positive friends, teachers and a community that has rallied around him. It’s been an incredible outpouring of emotional support and I think that, along with our faith, gives him all the more power to fight what he’s dealing with.”

Yes, the list of supporters in Adam’s corner is lengthy and there are many standouts. One such contributor standing by Thill’s side is his grandfather and Lori’s father, Dale Minzlaff, longtime head of the Marinette Legion baseball program.

“It’s quite an honor for Adam to be chosen to pitch in this game,” said Dale when asked to talk about how proud he is to see his grandson being honored within the baseball system he’s so familiar with. “The directors within Legion baseball look at all of the applications they get from coaches who are trying to get one of their players onto the team and have to decide. I think they took into consideration a little bit of Adam’s history. You know, I remember talking to folks who were at those games where he was pitching after taking treatment earlier in the day. They were just amazed that he could turn around and play a full game after dealing with treatment the same day.”

The fight to rid Adam’s system of Hodgkins continues.

Currently, the protein-based treatment Thill is receiving, while not as invasive and draining on his system as chemotherapy, is tedious nonetheless. What person at 19 years of age has the patience to sit in a recliner for a solid hour with an apparatus attached to a port in their chest?

“It gets old after awhile,” Adam says of the treatment regimen his doctors have him on currently. “But it’s not the worst thing. I’m in and out in an hour and I like seeing everybody in oncology at this point. I actually have had days where I start off with treatment, go to school for a couple of hours and then pitch a complete game. I’m worn out after the fact but it’s not too bad”

When it comes to his illness, that’s about as complicated as it gets these days, according to Thill. But there’s another piece to the tapestry of strength that shields him from adversity. That piece comes from the fact that he’s now forced to walk down his path without the benefit of having his best friend at his side.

In June, a longtime teammate and dear friend of Adam’s passed away when a tragic dirt bike accident claimed the life of Chris Mylener.

Of all the things adversity has thrown at him, Mylener’s untimely death is the event in his life that gives him pause, instantly erases his smile.

“This summer’s tragedy was devastating for us,” said Mrs. Thill. “Our families are very close and it’s going to be quite a battle to get through.”

Adam isn’t quick to talk about it.

Understandable.

There’s only so much adversity one can face while maintaining a positive attitude. He feels robbed of a companion, a friend and fellow competitor who likely would have been playing by his side through much of his success in athletics.

It would be safe to say that there’s going to be considerable inspiration provided courtesy of Mylener, 2010’s M-O Conference Most Valuable Pitcher, behind a few of Thill’s heaters this Sunday at Miller Park.

Adversity hasn’t come anywhere close to keeping Adam Thill out of the game of life. And with the support system he and his family already have in place, coupled with an extraordinary will to live, that fact doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.


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