Brennan Cook's walk and talk betray the fact that half of his left tibia is missing, transplanted up his body 14 months ago to replace the jawbone the Canal Winchester High School junior lost to cancer.
Cook, a 5-foot-8 guard with the Indians' boys basketball team, neither limps nor has any difficulty speaking. And although he starts on junior varsity and sees limited varsity action, coach Lyndell Snyder said Cook is one of the program's best shooters and even was on the verge of being voted team captain.
"I'm feeling pretty good with my life right now," Cook said. "I've come a long way."
A three-sport athlete entering high school, Cook gave up baseball and football after his freshman year to concentrate on basketball. But only a few weeks into his sophomore year, he was out eating with several friends when he noticed he could not open his mouth wide enough to chew a chicken wing.
"I started feeling weirdness. I couldn't feel my jaw," Cook said. "I could only open my mouth to a certain extent. I could barely get the wings in my mouth."
Cook visited his dentist, who diagnosed Cook as having a cyst under his left jaw and referred him to a specialist. The cyst was removed in mid-September 2016, but on Oct. 3, 2016, Cook got a diagnosis he never expected -- osteosarcoma, which, while according to cancer.org is the most common type of bone cancer, still is diagnosed less than 20,000 times annually.
The good news was Cook had an 80 percent chance of survival.
"But that 20 percent got to us," he said.
A seven-hour surgery followed on Nov. 1, 2016, at Ohio State's James Cancer Hospital, and Cook remained in the hospital for the next 10 days. His teammates, coaches and the Canal Winchester community rallied by his side, raising more than $12,000 in a benefit that included a bake sale, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament and a silent auction to defray medical expenses and another $1,025 through a GoFundMe account.
"It was a really rough time, but (his spirits) were good. He wasn't as down as I thought he'd be," said teammate Jake Howard, a friend of Cook since first grade. "We were glad to be there for him. As a friend, he is always there if you need somebody to talk to. He'll always hang out. He's just a really good friend in general."
Several weeks of physical therapy followed before Cook was told Jan. 4, 2017, that he was cancer-free and would not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments.
"Before he had the surgery, he could only open (his mouth) about 11 millimeters. Doctors said the average opening is 45 millimeters," said Tonja Cook, Brennan's mother. "He had to do exercises to move his jaw and open it more and more. When he first went back, he could open it around 24 millimeters."
Through all of that, Cook -- who weighed just 105 pounds after surgery but now is up to 145 -- missed only eight games his sophomore season.
Acknowledging Cook is talented enough to play on varsity, Snyder and junior varsity coach Adam Twiss opted to put him on j.v. in order to get him more playing time.
"It's alarming to hear about a high school kid getting cancer," said Twiss, who also was Cook's health teacher last year. "But with his attitude and how he handles everything, there was no doubt in my mind how he was going to come out of it. He is top-notch."
Cook was averaging 8.0 points, 4.1 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.8 steals through nine games on j.v., and, entering the week, had yet to score in a varsity game.
The varsity was 5-5 overall before playing Worthington Kilbourne on Jan. 9 and is 2-2 in the OCC-Capital Division entering a game Friday, Jan. 12, at Newark.
"Playing him on j.v., letting him run the show, is good for him because he gets to play a lot of minutes," Snyder said. "He will have to make a (varsity) impact next year, but him just sitting the bench and getting spot minutes this year is not best for him."
Cook, who has a footlong scar across his neck and another lengthy scar on his left leg, doesn't care as long as he can play.
"Missing eight games really hurt me," he said. "I like to get into the gym whenever I can to get back to where I've been."
Swimmers prepare to reconvene
When the swimming teams travel to Muskingum Recreation Center on Monday, Jan. 15, for a tri-meet against host Dresden Tri-Valley and Warsaw River View, it will be the first time in more than three weeks that they will compete as a whole.
Canal Winchester was scheduled to compete against Central Crossing, DeSales and Westerville Central on Jan. 5 at Westerville Community Center, but coach Julie Pastor said she found out late last week that Central had left the Indians off their schedule and therefore they would not be competing. That would have been the Indians' first meet since a Dec. 22 dual against Watterson at Columbus Aquatics Center.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, eight Canal Winchester swimmers will compete in the Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium in Canton while the rest of the Indians will participate in the Teays Valley Invitational at Pickaway County Family YMCA.
Because of their club status, the Indians do not have organized practices. Swimmers practice on their own or with a club.
"We're not doing bad at all, but we still have a lot of times we are striving to meet," Pastor said. "We wanted to have that meet (Jan. 5). Hopefully, everybody is getting all the work in that they need. We like a lot of what we've seen so far, but we have room to get better."
Swimmers must meet time standards to qualify for the Northeast Classic. Branin Natatorium is the site of the state meet.
The Indians' Northeast Classic competitors are Leah Bates (100-yard freestyle, 200 individual medley), Julia Kotwis (100 butterfly, 200 free), Hannah Olger (50 free, 100 free), Kassidy Pastor (100 fly, 200 IM), Karenna Reed (200 free, 500 free), Grace Riddle (100 backstroke, 200 free) and the 200 and 400 free relays of the girls team and Blake Fry (100 breaststroke, 500 free) and Korbin Martino (50 free, 100 back) of the boys team.
"They basically treat this as a warm-up for the state meet," coach Pastor said. "They want to know what things will be like at state if they get that far, and this gives them a good idea."
Awards provide incentive for girls
The University of Miami's turnover chain quickly drew attention across the college football world this past fall, and it also gave girls basketball coach Willie Jordan an idea for his own team.
Jordan has been giving out two awards on a near-weekly basis to his team's top guard and its defensive standout. The former honoree wears a gold chain around her neck supporting a placard that says "Top Basketball Guard," while the defensive standout is named "Power Player." The latter honor comes with a belt denoting the award.
"The Power Player belt is given to the post player who defends, leads and communicates the best," forward Shalea Byrd said. "You have to rebound and talk on defense. Basically, give all of your effort and work hard. (Jordan) thought of it as an incentive. It gets us to think about different parts of the game."
At Miami, players who force a turnover get to wear a 36-inch, 10-karat gold chain featuring the school logo as soon as they return to the sideline. The chain was the brainchild of Hurricanes cornerbacks coach Mike Rumph.
Byrd and Camryn Woodrow each earned the "Power Player" award once in December. N'Daia Hamilton was the first recipient of the top guard award, followed by Markyia McCormick.
Canal Winchester had a six-game winning streak snapped with a 55-47 loss at New Albany on Jan. 5 and then lost to Hartley 61-59 on Jan. 6. Byrd led the Indians in scoring both nights, with 14 points against the Eagles and 15 against the Hawks.
The Indians were 7-3 overall before playing Lancaster on Jan. 9 and are 3-2 in the OCC-Capital entering the second half of league play, which begins Friday, Jan. 12, at home against Newark.
Below are the coming schedules for the Canal Winchester boys basketball, girls basketball, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 12 -- At Newark
Jan. 13 -- Home vs. Licking Heights
*Jan. 12 -- Home vs. Newark. The Indians lost to the Wildcats 54-35 on Dec. 4.
Jan. 16 -- Home vs. Watterson
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 13 -- Northeast Classic at Branin Natatorium and Teays Valley Invitational at Pickaway County Family YMCA
Jan. 15 -- Dresden Tri-Valley and Warsaw River View at Muskingum Recreation Center
*Jan. 11 -- Home vs. Groveport
Jan. 12-13 -- Marion County Invitational at Marion Harding