May 22–Atlanta Braves catcher Kurt Suzuki’s involvement in a social-media campaign on behalf of a 3-year-old child with Stage IV Neuroblastoma inspired a slew of professional athletes to also step up.
Trucker Dukes lived on the Hawaiian island of Maui, where Suzuki was born and grew up and his parents still live. Through family connections, Suzuki and his wife Renee learned about the adorable 3-year-old and decided to aid the family in their plight, hoping to raise awareness about pediatric cancer. Sadly, Trucker died in March.
Since then, the Dukes have embarked on a tour of appreciation, visiting people across the country who supported them during their fight and journey. The family is also performing random acts of kindness along the way in Trucker’s name.
Last week, the Dukes stopped in Atlanta and attended a Braves game. As it turned out, it was a game when Suzuki came through with a clutch two-run homer in the eighth inning, helping lift the team for a stirring 7-4 win over the Nationals. The Dukes family stayed with the Suzuki family.
“Our friendship grew and so did our desire to raise awareness for pediatric cancer,” said Renee Suzuki in an e-mail before Friday’s game. “Kurt and I have three small children of our own. For this reason, we have become extremely passionate about bringing awareness and helping families while they embark on the most difficult time of their lives.”
In February, Kurt Suzuki wrote a touching piece in the The Player’s Tribune entitled “For Trucker.”
First off, I heard about what happened a couple of weeks ago at your brother Jedidiah’s birthday party. I heard about how you and a family member were sitting inside your house while your brothers and sister were outside with the other kids, playing. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you — a three-year-old kid, stuck inside the house because the tumors in his leg had impaired his ability to walk.
And you could actually hear the other kids — the ones who weren’t confined indoors by cancer — outside playing and having fun.
Then, when the pressure in your swollen leg got to be too much, as it often does, you screamed in pain. Everybody outside heard you, and your dad came running in and said, “What’s up, buddy? What do you need?”
And instead of crying about the pain, you made a simple request.
“I want to go outside.”
You hadn’t been outside in two weeks, and you decided that that was long enough. You weren’t going to let cancer keep you from being a kid. At least not on that day, your brother’s eighth birthday.
So your dad took you outside.
… You’ve been through so much — brain surgery, chemo, radiation — but your cancer doesn’t define you. You’re still a three-year-old, and your instincts are to go outside and just play and be a normal kid.
That’s a kind of strength that I can’t even imagine.
Maybe you wanted to shoot the hose to pretend you were a firefighter, like your dad. Maybe you wanted to pretend you were coming to somebody’s rescue. Maybe you wanted to pretend you were a hero.
Well let me tell you, Trucker. You don’t have to pretend.
Because you are a hero.
The Suzukis wanted to raise awareness of low funding for pediatric cancer — it is estimated only 4 percent of federal funding goes toward pediatric cancer. Renee said the main beneficiary of the Kurt Suzuki Family Foundation is the Kapiolani Medical center, pediatric division.
With the help several major league baseball players, the couple created a video that includes more than 75 Major League Players giving a “Shaka” to Trucker to show love and support. There is also a Team Trucker page on Facebook.
“The battle he fought, and the how he fought it and his personality just shines through,” said Kurt Suzuki. “He was always positive for the most part unless he was undergoing through treatment that made him feel crummy.”
Trucker’s mother, Shauna Dukes, said her family embarked on a #TruckerRidesWithUs tour that started in San Francisco on April 1 to spend time together as a family and to give back to strangers in Trucker’s honor — paying for their coffee, gas, groceries, a bill at a restaurant — in hopes it will inspire others to pay it forward.
“Our older children gave a lot over the last two and half years of Trucker being in treatment, and we wanted to bless and pour into them and their hearts,” she said about the trip.
“Our message to people simply is don’t take life for granted!” Shauna Dukes said in an e-mail. “None of us are promised tomorrow so let’s live like that. Let’s love one another better and be a blessing wherever you are! Let’s make our lives count for something bigger than just ourselves, even when circumstances are really hard!”
The Dukes have a daughter, Indiana, who is 11; and two sons, Mac, who is 9; and Jedi who is 8. Trucker was the youngest with his mother adding he “will forever be 3.”
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