Huron's Nick Lenyo was honored as the Courage Award winner at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards Thursday.
CLEVELAND — There is no opponent that Nick Lenyo will face on the baseball diamond or football field that is anywhere close to the foe he has already defeated in life.
The 15-year old freshman at Huron High School has overcome osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, and the amputation of his left tibia below the knee and returned to both the baseball and football fields in the last 15 months.
For overcoming all of the obstacles life put in his way at such a young age, Lenyo was honored with the Courage Award at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards last Thursday.
“It’s a great honor,” Lenyo said. “The last year or so has been kind of a whirlwind. To do something really special like this is really great.
“This last year, the last two years actually, getting through all my treatment and physical therapy and relearning to walk, it’s all been pretty tough, but then, now, the last few months, being able to get back out on the baseball field, the football field, it all seems like it was meant to happen.”
Lenyo was diagnosed with a life-threatening malignant tumor near his ankle in January of 2013 after going to the doctor for what he thought was a simple sprain. After multiple treatments, Lenyo and his family decided his best course of action would be to have his left distal tibia amputated in April.
“It was so close to my ankle and my growth plate that they’d have to cut a lot of tendons if they were going to try and save the leg,” Lenyo said. “They didn’t know if I’d ever be able to play sports again, so with the amputation, I had a better chance of the cancer never coming back, like 99.9 percent chance it never comes back, and also, getting back to sports very soon. That was the best decision for me.
“Being a 13-year old at the time when I made the decision, it was pretty difficult, but the Cleveland Clinic, my doctors, especially Dr. Joyce and Dr. Thompson, they really laid out all my options, and in the end, it was just me making the decision. I think the amputation, looking back, was the best decision I ever made.”
Once he was fitted with a prosthesis, Lenyo began the long road to recovery with an intense regime of physical therapy, but through it all, he was motivated by the goal of returning to competitive sports.
And return Lenyo did in the spring of 2014, as he was able to play baseball again. Then, this past fall, he was named the starting quarterback for Huron’s freshman football team.
“I was looking forward to it,” Lenyo said. “At physical therapy, I was doing everything he told me to do and more. Once I started lifting, football lifting in April, I just never looked back.
“Definitely, I always had it in my mind that I knew I could get back out there because I just love the games so much, baseball and football. It was all just extra motivation to get to therapy, get working on walking with my leg just to get back out there and play.”
Although Lenyo made the journey, he was not alone, as he had the support of his family, and many in the Cleveland sports community, including Indians manager Terry Francona and Browns cornerback Joe Haden.
After Lenyo threw out the first pitch at an Indians game in May of 2014, he and Francona have become close and exchange texts on a regular basis. With Haden, Lenyo attended the Pro Bowl and 2014 NFL Draft.
“It’s been amazing, actually, how many supporters I’ve got, how many people are behind you, not just in my hometown and my family, but also, all these big sports stars,” Lenyo said. “It’s sort of cool to see how down-to-earth they are, that they’d reach out to somebody like me.
“Joe Haden, he actually came to my house. He came with his then-fiancée, now, wife. They came, and it was after training camp one day. They just came in, sat down and talked for an hour or so. He brought cleats and he signed them. He’s a really cool guy.”
Going through his battle with osteosarcoma and having to work his way back from an amputation at the age of 13 has done far more than change Lenyo physically. It has given him a new mission in life, one where he could be a support system for those going through similar battles that he faced.
“The whole experience just changed my whole outlook on things,” Lenyo said. “I think I complain a little less, and it just makes you a lot more grateful for everything you have.
“Your body only takes you so long, and I’ve really been thinking about going to — and my sister’s thinking about doing this, she’s a senior in high school — medical school and maybe be an oncologist to help kids that are in the same situations that I was in.”