State College

Student battling cancer gives back to teammates

Isaac Messner shows his teammates the new uniforms. State High senior Isaac Messner was granted a wish from Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Messner, a member of the State College Area High School track and field team, chose to get new uniforms for his teammates instead of something for himself March 23, 2016.
Isaac Messner shows his teammates the new uniforms. State High senior Isaac Messner was granted a wish from Make-A-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Messner, a member of the State College Area High School track and field team, chose to get new uniforms for his teammates instead of something for himself March 23, 2016. nmark@centredaily.com

It’s better to give than to receive — which isn’t to say that the two are mutually exclusive.

The entire State College Area High School boys’ track and field team was gathered Wednesday in the bleachers overlooking the South Building, but Isaac Messner was first in line to receive his new track and field uniform.

It wasn’t because he has seniority — even though after nearly four seasons he most certainly does — and it wasn’t because he was already on his feet, standing next to his parents and head coach Steve Shisler at the front of the crowd — although that would have made sense.

No, Messner was first in line to receive his new uniform because of his generosity, because instead of asking for a family trip to Disney World or an above-ground pool for the backyard, he worked with the Make-A-Wish foundation to help spruce up the team wardrobe.

It was surprising to absolutely no one.

“He’s the type of kid that you wish your entire roster was filled with,” Shisler said.

He was quick to point out that selflessness has always been a fundamental part of Messner’s character, a cocktail of resilience and mental fortitude that that only came into ever sharper relief after he was diagnosed with cancer.

He’s the type of kid that you wish your entire roster was filled with.

Steve Shisler, head coach of State High boys’ track and field

In April 2014, Messner started experiencing chest pains the morning after a particularly grueling track meet. Doctors located a bubble hovering above his heart and between his lungs that was quickly identified as Hodgkin lymphoma.

During several rounds of treatment that included chemotherapy and radiation, he remained devoted to participating in as many practices and meets as he could.

“I just wanted to fight probably just as hard to appear normal,” Messner said.

Even when his treatment left him too sick to compete, Messner was always in the stands as a show of solidarity.

His father, John Messner, said that Isaac found an amazing support group through the cross country and track teams, but beyond the comfort of friends, he thinks that his son was attempting to exert some measure of authority over an uncertain situation.

“I think that this was his way of ensuring that he had control,” John Messner said.

Isaac’s track and field teammate, senior Griffin Thompson, was impressed by his commitment.

“It makes you feel like he can do anything,” Thompson said.

The boxes of new maroon-colored uniforms that sat beside the bleachers on Wednesday afternoon didn’t hurt either.

It’s been something that a lot of these guys have deserved for a long time.

Isaac Messner

Messner was joking when he told his mother that he could qualify for a Make-A-Wish campaign, but she went ahead and reached out to the organization anyway.

This was problematic only in the sense that Messner wasn’t harboring any deep seated desires. Even if he was secretly jonesing for a backstage tour of Sea World, his schedule would never allow it.

“I never really wanted to anything for myself. I stay very active and very busy,” Messner said.

He was adamant about using his wish to do something for others.

Make-A-Wish had recently adopted an “I Wish to Give” category for children looking to indulge in altruism. According to Lindsey Herzing, the organization’s Punxsutawney regional manager, Messner was the first in her jurisdiction to make good on that offer.

“He’s a senior. He’s going to graduate and he’s leaving the uniforms here for the school,” Herzing said.

As a surprise, Make-A-Wish also presented Messner with an Under Armour bag full of track-related goodies from Dick’s Sports — which they had the foresight to do before the crowd descended on the boxes of crisp uniforms like a mob.

Messner said that if everything goes according to plan, Wednesday afternoon was the prelude to what will hopefully amount to a blissful epilogue.

“At the moment it looks like June will be the end of my treatment and hopefully the end of this all together,” he said.

For now, he seemed content to head off to practice with his teammates, their new uniforms clutched tightly in their hands.

“It’s been something that a lot of these guys have deserved for a long time,” Isaac said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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