From Carnegie Mellon University Athletics
Nine year-old Brock Kitterman, the youngest Tartan in school history, tugged on his jersey, stepped onto the football field and took a knee with football in hand and smiled for the camera as the Carnegie Mellon University football captains got set for their group photo.
Brock is a captain for the 2014 Tartans, officially becoming a member of the team last spring after signing a letter of intent in front of the players and staff.
A native of Bethel Park, Brock was paired with Carnegie Mellon by Team IMPACT, an organization that matches courageous kids facing life threatening or chronic illness with collegiate athletics teams to improve their quality of life through the power of a team.
At 12 weeks old, Brock's parents were told he was completely blind and the doctors diagnosed him with Bilateral Retinoblastoma, an incredibly rare eye cancer.
He had two retina detachments and multiple large tumors in both eyes that included thousands of "seed" tumors. He immediately began high-dose chemotherapy for six months, which calcified the tumors and shrunk them allowing the retinas to reattach.
Brock then underwent Cryotherapy treatment as well as laser therapy in which the doctors were able to freeze the seeds.
Later on, Brock went through a two-step surgery to correct the muscles around his eyes so that he would be able to directly look at someone when he is talking to them.
Unfortunately, during the chemotherapy process, one of the agents he received to fight the Bilateral Retinoblastoma significantly compromised his hearing.
Currently, Brock is considered to be legally blind. Due to the tumors in his eyes he has 20/200 vision in his right eye and 20/400 vision in the left and because of their location there is no way to remove the tumors to improve on his eyesight. He can hear without his hearing aids, but misses a lot.
Tammy Kitterman, Brock's mother, says, "Loss of hearing is a small price to pay for life."
Since he can't see people smiling at him or pick up on other social cues, Brock gets very lonely, especially at school. When Brock's mom realized that he was struggling with his peers she decided to reach out to Team IMPACT.
Brock, like most other nine year-old boys, wants to play sports and participate, but because of the risks associated he can't always participate with his peers. Involving Brock with Team IMPACT would place him with a collegiate team where all of the athletes would be aware of his circumstances and allow him to experience being part of a team while keeping him safe.
"Football NEVER crossed our minds as Brock's parents," Tammy noted as she explained that the boys who play football from Brock's fourth grade class are more rough and tough than when playing other sports.
Tammy then said, "We were certainly skeptical at first, but after meeting the guys from the team and the coaching staff, we knew we had been paired with a great team at a great school."
Brock has been immersed into the entire Carnegie Mellon football team experience. He attended and participated in picture day, he has hung out with his teammates on and off the field, he helps get out the pads and pants for the team and even gets to ride in the golf cart.
Outside of school and attending football practices, Brock enjoys spending time with his family, friends and pets.
Brock also likes competing in triathlons, playing video games, listening to books, and is an amusement park and more specifically, rollercoaster enthusiast.
Brock's favorite race has been the Mini Moraine Man.
"It was my first open water swim and it was double the course that I normally do, but I was racing against kids on a real triathlon team and still came in second place in my age group," Brock said.
Recently, Brock has joined a triathlon team out in nearby Zelienople and is looking forward to many more races to come.
A group of guys from the Tartan football team surprised Brock at one of his races when they arrived to cheer him on. After the race was over they again surprised Brock with a trip to Kennywood.
"I have never let Brock go anywhere without me, but the guys have been so great and I knew they would have a great time and take good care of Brock," Tammy said.
Brock's favorite ride is the Black Widow, he has been on the ride seven times in a row.
"Brock is an amazing kid," said football senior and captain Dustin Schneider. "He went through more struggles prior to his first birthday then some people experience in a lifetime and the fact that every time he is around th e team he is smiling ear-to-ear is truly inspirational. At Kennywood he had our stomachs turning!"
"Being a part of the Carnegie Mellon football team has been a wonderful experience," Brock said.
Brock has been an incredible addition to the Carnegie Mellon football team, and the Tartans are looking forward to having him around for many years to come.
"The Carnegie Mellon football team is thrilled to add Brock to the Tartan football family," said head coach Rich Lackner. "I hope that our team has had as big an impact on Brock as he has made on us."
"Brock is an inspiration to all those associated with the Carnegie Mellon football team," Lackner continued. "We are ALL blessed to have Brock in our lives!"
For more about Team IMPACT: http://www.goteamimpact.org/