The football lights are shining bright onto the Ankeny football field. Surrounded by swarming bugs they create an atmosphere many live for. In the haze of the lights and crowded stands there is a man— a man who is carrying a large weight on his shoulders that many cannot comprehend. As he struggles to pick up his left leg with every step he gets lost in the crowd, but soon finds his front row seat on the fifty-yard line. This new seating arrangement is not what he had planned on that summer before the upcoming football season. You see his place of happiness was on the sidelines taking stats next to his most cherished friends. But, his love of servicing the football team was cut short due to a newborn struggle— a struggle that shakes many to the core of their being…. cancer.
Al, a hardworking and dedicated man, was born in Urbandale with a destiny to help and service people. In his earlier years he was a young man who constantly strived for perfection. This effective mindset leads him to some of his proudest moments. In college Al played as a walk on catcher for the UNI baseball team. “I was an all-conference performer my senior year and that was my greatest accomplishment” Al says speaking of his glory days. His love for the game would later inspire him to become a coach and mentor.
After graduating from college he married the love of his life, Pam, and she would continue to be his support system and number one fan throughout the rest of his life. Together they had two beautiful children, Jake and Joy, and were blessed to welcome two grandchildren into the world with a third on the way.
“I am the most positive person I know, right Pam?” says Al as he looks over to his loving wife for reassurance. “I’m never having a bad day; every day is a good day.” His positive attitude is what would get him through the battle of his life. Correction— for his life.
Friday July 5, 2013 was a seemingly normal day for the Al, but it took an unexpected twist and exposed the demon that was mutating and reproducing inside of him: cancer cells of the rarest form. He had gone to physical therapy just as he had every other day for some recurring hip pain, but soon after his session he received a call from his physical therapist advising him to go to urgent care because he believed that there was something much bigger and much more serious happening within his body. After some testing, it was declared that he would need a CT scan. The results of the scan showed a large mass developing inside of his brain. Al would need immediate surgery.
On Monday July 8th the tumor was removed and he received a diagnosis that only 1 in every 100,000 receive. Glioblastoma, aka “the terminator” says Al, was the culprit. It’s a terminal cancer that many view as a death sentence, but not him. After word got around about his condition, friends and family outpoured love and support for him as his journey began which would start with numerous hours of therapy, 42 days of chemo, and 10 hours of radiation. “I was in a dark place,” says Al, “I began to lose faith and once that happens the devil starts to take over any hope you have left.” After his surgery he was left with little function in his left leg and some minor problems in his left hand. His strong will to improve and get back to his old self was one of the many reasons why he was so determined to learn how to walk again. The day after his surgery he started physical therapy, earlier than planned of course. “I’m a perfectionist,” Al says as he describes himself. After three weeks in the hospital he was released. A life of treatments, new found faith, and a constant battle to live would begin.
Due to the severity of his health and the stress of his job Al would be forced to retire. He asks himself “What do you do to fill your days? And so that was a difficult thing for me because I didn’t plan on retiring.” After overcoming the emotional struggle of retiring, Al has found a new light. When asked what he plans on spending his free time doing since retirement he answers: “I plan on volunteering my time, working with young people, and I have a lot of teaching and coaching left to do.” His commitment to better people during his unknown number of days he has left is astonishing.
“I knew God would come and if I would pray enough that he would fill those voids for me” Al says as speaks of his trust in God to help him over the hurdles in his life. He calls himself a “spiritual rookie” and since retirement has read through half of the bible. His faith in God has helped him overcome many of the obstacles that cancer has created in his life. “If you have trust and faith, God will show you the way,” he says. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Al came to the acceptance that God has a plan for him and that if he continues to live his life with a positive attitude he can conquer anything. He believes that as long as there’s faith in his life he will always think of himself as an indestructible guy.
Al has been humbled by the love and support from his family and friends. “I had so many people reach out to me that all it did was build my strength and want to make me fight harder.” After being diagnosed a new adjective describing him was added to the list: fighter. His friends told him that of everyone they knew if anyone could handle it, it would be him. Reflecting on the kind words of others he says, “How can you let those people down? You can’t.” The encouragement and positivity from others helped him strive to live a more fulfilled life while fighting the monster inside.
Al has accepted what life has thrown at him and has turned it into an opportunity to spend time with the ones he loves, focus on his faith, and cherish all that life has to offer, which many don’t get to do. “I want to be that guy that can give people hope” he speaks with a genuine sense of passion to help others. His positive outlook on his life is one of the main reasons why he is jumping over every challenge that he faces and will continue to face for the rest of his life. This is proven when he says confidently, “It’s been a truly positive life changing event because we’ve chosen to make it that way.” His positivity has inspired all those who cross his path. Al’s story and outlook on life is encouraging others with cancer to continue to fight the tug of war battle for life with God.
When speaking about death Al says with a smile on his face “The day I meet my maker will be the best day of my life.” He believes that when his time comes to leave this world all will be right because he has lived his life and has accepted the fact that eventually over time he will lose his battle to the monster that flipped his world upside down.
There is something to be learned from this man. Al Olson is a person of great character; he’s a man who would drop anything he was doing if someone needed him to and wouldn’t expect anything in return. He lives each day to the fullest and cherishes every priceless moment in time spent surrounded by those who keep his head above water. God has thrown him the biggest curve ball of his life and he is at the plate ready to swing. He is a fighter. He is a warrior and at the end of his life when he is called to the pearly gates of heaven’s door he will reflect back and think to himself how great of a life he lived and how hard he fought to make it that way. He will look back at all the people who loved him with tears in their eyes as they say goodbye, but he will be smiling because he had an unbreakable faith in God, a positive attitude that the devil could never take away, and people who would do anything for him. If there were more people in the world like him we would be in heaven because there is no person as genuine, loving, and caring of every person as him.
“Its important to make the most of every day that you have on this is earth. Yesterday was history; tomorrow is a mystery; today, again, a gift from God. You have to enjoy life for what it is and too many times people bring in worry into their life… worry and anxiety take all the fun away and that’s the mystery… People get concerned about mystery and fear the future and what’s going to happen. Those are things that we have no control over, so you need to take control of the things you have control of in your life and cherish those and spend as much time with your family as you can because you’ve got a short period of time on this earth. Don’t screw it up.” – Al Olson
Please choose Al Olson to be this year’s recipient of the Keeping the Faith award. There is no one more deserving of this award. His selflessness and fight to beat all odds inspires me and everyone around him to live a better life. He has accepted what life has thrown at him, but has refused to let it conquer him. Al is the most loving and caring human being I have been blessed to know; he changes each person he meets for the better. Al tells his story to inspire people, motivate them, and to help other with an illness like his own on a regular basis. He is the most hard working, driven, and loving man I have ever met. He deserves this award. He has changed my life in so many ways and I will forever be grateful to him for that. If this award were to be given to him, it would symbolize as a thank you from all people he has impacted. It would mean the world to him and everyone who loves him. <3