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Carnegie Mellon’s most inspirational member of the team wasn’t on the field for the Tartans Saturday night in a 30-0 loss to Case Western Reserve in the Academic Bowl.

But the impact a player can make isn’t always measured in touchdowns and tackles.

Nine-year-old Brock Kitterman has battled a rare eye cancer, bilateral retinoblastoma, since he was a baby. He is connected with CMU through TEAM IMPACT, an organization that matches children facing life threatening or chronic illness with a college team to improve their quality of life through their involvement with a team.

Kitterman, who is legally blind and has difficulty hearing as well, will never play an actual college football game, but ultimately, that matters little.

“Our players see the challenges he deals with 24-7 and they see how he never feels sorry for himself,” CMU coach Rich Lackner said. “He has a great outlook on life and is an inspiration to us all.”

Senior defensive tackle Dustin Schneider echoed those thoughts. He loves seeing Kitterman at practice every week and looks forward to seeing him at the games as well. Kitterman was at the Tartans’ opener on Saturday.

“It’s a lot of fun. He always has a smile on his face and talks to us,” Schneider said. “He’s really inspirational because even though he has gone through so much, he still enjoys life.”

Kitterman was diagnosed with cancer at 12 weeks old. He had two retina detachments and multiple tumors in both eyes that included thousands of seed tumors. He went through high-dose chemotherapy for six months. The chemo calcified and shrunk the tumors, allowing the retinas to reattach. He also went through Cryotherapy treatment and laser therapy, which allowed doctors to freeze the seeds.

While the chemotherapy did help his situation, one of the agents used during it caused difficulty with his ability to hear.

On top of that, Kitterman had a two-step surgery to fix the muscles around his eyes so that he could look at someone directly when talking.

“As football players, we battle injuries and go through practices and play games, but it doesn’t compare to what (Brock) has gone through,” Schneider said. “He’s been battling his whole life.”

Lackner said his team has never been involved with TEAM IMPACT before, but was thrilled about the idea when the athletic director mentioned it to him last winter.

Kitterman was voted a captain and typically spends two days a week with the team at practice. He also gets to enjoy pre-game meals with the team.

“Our players have really taken him under their wings,” Lackner said. “The experience is beneficial to Brock because he gets to be around a team and interact with the players. Our guys benefit because it gives them a greater appreciation for everything. I’m blessed to be a part of this. I love working with young people. This has been a great experience for me as a coach.”

While Kitterman doesn’t play football, he does compete in triathlons, and the players once surprised him at one of his meets. After it was over, they took him to Kennywood, an amusement park in Pittsburgh.

“It was so impressive watching him out there,” Schneider said. “He’s like any other kid who loves competing in sports. It was awesome seeing Brock compete. He’s very talented.”

The appearance by the players at the triathlon is an example of how much they enjoy being around Kitterman, who has no doubt helped enrich the experience of the players as NCAA Division III student-athletes.

“This isn’t something where we just pretend to enjoy having him around when he is at practice,” Schneider said. “We all look at Brock like he is our little brother. We love spending time with him and our relationship with him goes well beyond the time we see him at practice every week.”