BIG KID, BIGGER HEART: Shrine Bowl gives Myers chance to form unique bond

WEBSTER CITY – One stands 6-foot-5 and tips the scale at 267 pounds. The other looks to be about half that size.

The big guy is 18 years old with a sky’s the limit future. He’s headed to the University of Iowa to play football – the envy of thousands that had the same dream, just not the ability to see it become reality.

The little guy is just 11, and though his body isn’t as chiseled, he’s just as strong. Maybe stronger.

Approximately 281 miles of Interstate and a host of life circumstances separate them, and yet they’ve formed a bond potentially for life. It’s changed both of them, and for the better.

The Shriners Hospital for Children has 22 locations in North America – 20 in the United States, and one in both Canada and Mexico. The Twin Cities facility in Minneapolis – a 40-bed hospital that focuses on treating children with a host of orthopaedic and neuromusculoskeletal conditions, and provides care regardless of the families’ financial situations – is where recent Webster City High School graduate Boone Myers first crossed paths with Makhi Sumtad, a child that was forced to travel through the pit of hell and yet came out the other side more determined than ever.

Sumtad, of Onamia, Minn., was diagnosed with the rare blood disorder neutropenia when he was just five years old. He and his family learned he had the disease when he was admitted to the hospital in early August, 2007, with a severe case of gangrene.

Neutropenia, which had gone undiagnosed for more than a year, left Sumtad susceptible to gangrene, and the consequences were devastating. Soon after reaching the Hennepin County Medical Center, he went into life-saving surgery where his left arm, shoulder, the back shoulder blade and left pectoral muscle were removed, according to an article that appeared in the Mille Lacs County Times on Sept. 16, 2007.

The skin across his chest and down his left side along the abdomen to his hip was taken as well.

It was 5 years later, in February of this year, when the now 11-year-old Sumtad made a new and life-long friend in Myers.

After learning he had been selected to play on the North Squad in the 2013 Shrine Bowl, Myers took it upon himself to learn the true meaning of the game and why it is so important to the organization every year.

Yes, it’s a football game and, yes, it’s an honor to be selected. But it didn’t take Myers long to understand that the game itself is simply a sidebar to the fact that the event has raised more than $2.2 million for the hospital since its inception.

“The off the field things are what I will remember,” Myers said. “Especially with Makhi and his story, it’s really a special thing.”

Myers and his cousin, fellow WCHS student and athlete Joey Root, first traveled to the Shriners Hospital in Minneapolis in February to volunteer their time, and it was then that Myers and Sumtad first met.

“We went up to the hospital and took kids from 8 to 10 (years old) on a snowshoe outing,’ Myers said. “Makhi got into one of my groups and we kind of hit it off.”

Sumtad is described by his dad, Erik, as a kid that loves everything to do with the outdoors. That fits right in with Myers, an avid hunter.

The cohesion was instant.

“His toughness was the first thing I noticed,” Myers said. “He didn’t let anything hold him back … he wouldn’t let his arm being gone hold him back from doing anything he wanted to do. If he wanted to do something he was going to do it.”

Myers returned in May to volunteer his time at the hospital’s prom, and Director of Child Life at Shriners Hospital Maureen Johnston says he was a hit with everyone in attendance.

“When Boone came to the prom he danced with everyone and just made sure everyone was having a good time, and I think he had a lot of fun,” Johnston said. “He never sat; he was out on the dance floor all night … the girls definitely had crushes on him that night.”

Myers again donated his time last month when he was part of the volunteer group that took Sumtad and other patients to an area water park in the Twin Cities. None of his visits were scripted; they weren’t in the capacity of a Shrine Bowl player.

He went because he wanted to – an act of kindness and dedication that Johnston won’t soon forget.

“All three times he came up on his own and he’s the first (Shrine Bowl player) that’s ever done that,” she said. “We were very, very impressed with (Myers) and his desire to find out about the hospital and find out what the Shrine Bowl is all about. He’s a great young man and I think he’s going to do really well in life. He has a kind heart, that’s for sure.”

Still, Myers wanted to do more, which is why he invited Makhi and Erik Sumtad to attend the Shrine Bowl in Cedar Falls this past weekend.

Makhi got the chance to take part in the football camp organized by the North and South teams, and he also rode in the Shrine Parade in downtown Cedar Falls.

“I think he had a lot of fun,” Myers said. “It meant a lot to me and I think it meant a lot to him because I don’t think he gets to do many things like that. I think he enjoyed every single second.”

On Friday, Myers and Sumtad stood up in front of approximately 600 in attendance at the Shrine banquet and told their story. They took turns at the microphone, and when it was over the entire room gave them a standing ovation.

“The kids are the reason why (we) football players were there,” Myers said. “It’s not because we’re the all-stars, but because we can help out these kids while playing football. It’s not really about the game. It’s about the kids.

“It’s a real eye-opener to compare your problems to their problems. It gets you out of your own all-about-me world and you realize you need to help out if you can.”

A night later the Sumtads were on the sideline to watch Myers collect two sacks and the North Squad Defensive Most Valuable Player award.

The game is over, but not the relationship. Myers starts his new journey on Saturday when he leaves for preseason camp at Iowa. He knows it will be perhaps the toughest thing he’s ever had to endure and the time constraints will be unbelievable. But he won’t forget Sumtad and hopes to see him again sooner rather than later.

“I think we’re going to write letters, text and Facebook back and forth,” Myers said. “He wants me to come back again in the winter and I hope that happens. I’m still going to try and make it up there once in a while to volunteer, too.”

Myers is still just a big kid, don’t forget … with an even bigger heart.