CEDAR RAPIDS — Drew Wall was not defined by affliction, nor the battle it forced him to wage.
The 16-year-old sophomore at Cedar Rapids Kennedy was defined by the spirit and strength he exhibited during his daily fight with cancer, and the community’s overwhelming response in support when it ended.
“I hugged him and told him how much I love him and how much we all love him,” Wall’s mother, Robin Wall wrote on a post at the caringbridge website. “and he was gone.”
Wall’s aunt, Kennedy volleyball coach Michelle Goodall, said Wall returned home at 3 p.m., and died a little more than three hours later.
“The way he passed was a miracle,” Goodall told The Gazette. “It was a miracle that he was able to be home, and be comfortable. It was very peaceful; it was perfect.”
Visitation is 1-6 p.m. Sunday in the Black Box Theater at Kennedy (north entrance), and the Celebration of Life service is 2 p.m. Monday at New Covenant Church, North Center Point Road and County Home Road.
Many donned the color purple in schools across the Metro area in honor of Wall, who died Monday at his home in Cedar Rapids surrounded by family, following a recent stay at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
A member of the Cougars’ golf team, Wall inspired many with his story, uniting numerous students and adults in raising cancer awareness and sharing his experience to help others.
“He lived life large,” Kennedy Golf Coach Mark Wilden said. “He was a great kid. He was an inspiration.”
Purple is a nationally recognized color for cancer awareness. The halls of Kennedy were filled with students dressed in the color.
“During passing time, I would guess (about) 70 percent of our students are wearing purple in some way shape or form,” Kennedy athletics director Aaron Stecker said. “There’s a definite sense of remembering Drew today.”
Wall was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, at age 11, leading to the amputation of part of his right leg. With the help of a prosthetic limb, he remained active, participating in sports like swimming, skiing and martial arts.
“By golly, he was going to play golf,” Stecker said. “It wasn’t going to define him.
“I would hope the lasting thing other 15-, 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids that got to know him or hear his story is that tough circumstances don’t have to define who you are. It doesn’t define the choices you make. You define that, and you can overcome the obstacles along the way.”
The disease forced him to suffer through multiple chemotherapy sessions and surgeries to remove metastases that formed, ranging in sizes from a pea to a baseball. He endured another procedure in August. Wall relied on his faith and maintained a vision for a cancer-free future.
“He was always going to get better,” Wilden said about Wall’s mentality in all areas of life. “He was always going to get better at golf, (speaking) Chinese, or whatever it is.”
Wall had regular speaking engagements, including American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, Mercy Hospital’s Cancer Survivor’s Day and for Children’s Miracle Network. Wall was a featured speaker at the Kirk Ferentz Kickoff Luncheon in 2011 at the Chariton in downtown Iowa City. The audience of about 300 people included Gov. Terry Branstad, UI President Sally Mason and members from the Board of Regents, according to his dad, Doug Wall.
He also addressed the University of Iowa football team before the Hawkeyes 2011 Big Ten opener.
Wall was selected as one of 50 “Champions” from Iowa by the Children’s Miracle Network, touring the White House in Washington, D.C., and taking a group picture with President Barack Obama in mid-September.
Wall had big shoulders and he was willing to carry the weight of the situation in hopes that it would benefit other cancer patients.
“He was so giving of himself,” Wilden said. “You know he was suffering, but it was more important to him, being with people and making people feel special. It’s hard to describe.”
His unselfish attitude was almost as prevalent as positive demeanor marked by a smile. A couple years ago, Cornell College developed the “Just Drew It” slogan for some shirts made up in his honor for Relay For Life. Wall liked it but wondered if his name had to be used.
“He liked to get things done,” Wilden said. “He didn’t want the attention.”
The Cougars honored Wall during the district golf meet in October, replacing their normal golf shirts and school colors with special purple shirts that included Wall’s first name and initials.
Senior Harrison Moore was the highest Cougar finisher, helping Kennedy claim the district team title. Wall accepted the championship banner for the team during the awards ceremony, motivating his teammates that day.
“I didn’t want to shoot a bad round and not make it to state for him,” Moore said after the round. “It pushed me today to shoot a little bit better.”
The Cougars shared a mutual affection and admiration. When Wall was hospitalized about two weeks ago, Wilden recalled spontaneously deciding to wear purple in a gesture of support. He was awed to see the rest of the golfers wear purple without coordinating the effort.
“Our guys cared for him,” Wilden said. “He cared about them.”
Emotions and support continue for the Wall family. Students from Linn-Mar and Jefferson took to Twitter as well, posting messages testifying to the outpouring of support from their classmates. Tweets with the hashtag #DrewWall flooded online in his memory.
“He was such a phenomenon,” Wilden said. “Just seeing people do things. The sacrifices people made and the things that they did. The things you saw kids doing. They cared about one another.”
A “Purple Out” is planned, according to Wilden, for the Dec. 14 boys’ and girls’ basketball double-header between Cedar Rapids Washington against the host Cougars. Players will wear purple socks, while cheerleaders and coaches will also wear purple attire in honor of Wall. Fans in attendance are encouraged to participate.
Shirts with the phrase “Just Drew It” are available at the Kennedy Athletics website. Visit http://www.kennedyactivities.com/home for the order form.