Reynolds pops back up from splits, cancer

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 30, 2001

John Reynolds, a 320-pound Vicksburg High senior, wows teammates and coaches with his ability to stretch at first base. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[03/30/01] When Vicksburg High first baseman John Reynolds stretches to make a catch and pops back up it amazes nearly everyone.

It just doesn’t look like something a 320-pound young man should be able to do. The massive senior looks like he belongs on the football field, smashing defensive linemen and blowing open holes for running backs instead of smashing baseballs and digging one-hoppers out of the dirt.

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“You usually think of athletes doing that,” teammate Ryan Gray said. “Goo is far from looking like an athlete, but he did it. That’s amazing.”

VHS coach Jamie Creel said, “I think he can stretch out from the Atlantic to the Pacific. I can’t even go 30 degrees down, and he can go parallel.”

But the biggest surprise is that the young man teammates call “Goo,” because of his resemblance to a television character, is on the field to begin with … .

It was just an ordinary game of basketball on an ordinary day in the fall of 1995 when Reynolds’ life was changed.

Going for a layup, he landed awkwardly and fell hard to the ground. He unable to get up. As the pain shot through his body, wild thoughts about the injury raced through his mind.

Was it a sprain? A broken leg? A broken hip?

The answer was something far worse.

X-Rays showed that Reynolds’ pelvic bone was deteriorating. Benign cysts in the bone had ruptured when he fell, and the ruptures had infected the bone marrow in his pelvis, causing cancer.

He would have to undergo chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant to survive.

“I was scared. Real scared. I thought it meant sudden death,” Reynolds said.

Doctors didn’t tell Reynolds how serious his condition was, but Amy Burger, a spokesman for the National Marrow Donor Program, said Goo had good reason to be frightened at the prospect of a marrow transplant.

“This is something that people get because it’s a life-threatening disease. This isn’t something you get because it’s the best treatment option,” she said.

More bad news came after testing for a marrow match none of his family members was a perfect match.

“It was kind of funny, because my brothers matched each other, but none of them matched me,” Reynolds said.

Finally, just when things looked darkest, Goo had some good luck. After about two weeks, a donor who matched his marrow type was found.

“They told me it was a man from Chicago. An Oriental man. I saw pictures of him. I can’t remember his name. I want to meet him though. That was the person who saved my life,” Reynolds said. “It kind of brought me to tears, knowing somebody was so generous like that.”

People at school helped, too. Teachers sent assignments home, and classmates were very supportive. Reynolds told only a handful of friends and teammates, but word quickly spread about his condition.

“It was something that he never really said much about, and a lot of people still don’t know about it … It was a scary thing,” said VHS catcher Mitchell Beauman, also a close friend and classmate of Reynolds’. “The first experience we had with it was just him not showing up for practice for a few days and nobody knowing why.”

On November 17, 1995, he had the life-saving transplant at University Medical Center in Jackson and by spring he was on the way to a full recovery.

“The scary part was when the lady pushed me into the operating room, and she was hitting stuff. She was hitting the door and everything,” Reynolds said with a laugh. “Then I finally got into the operating room, and they were playing that song Welcome to the Jungle.’ I was under the anesthesia, but I could still hear the music.”

Goo had dodged death’s bullet, and he felt great.

That was the problem.

Reynolds was supposed to stay off of his feet for seven months, but the warm air of the Mississippi spring and the green grass on the baseball diamond were calling him.

Having to stay close to Jackson for additional treatment, he joined a league in that city about four months after the operation. He never told his coaches what he had been through the previous winter, but he felt good enough to play.

After a couple of weeks of practice, however, a nagging pain began to flare up in his hip. The cancer had returned, and another transplant was needed.

“I caused the second transplant because I was supposed to stay off my feet for seven months, and I went back to baseball after five months,” Reynolds said with a sheepish smile. “It aggravated it, and the bone marrow didn’t settle.”

He had the second transplant in June 1996, and was more careful this time. He returned to baseball again, but waited until the following spring an extra month past when doctors said it was OK to return. He has been cancer-free since the second operation, but admits that he worries about a relapse “all the time.”

He has certain limitations now. Basketball is out, and he has to be careful about lifting heavy boxes at work at McAlister’s Deli. But baseball is still OK, and he gives it everything he has on the diamond.

“He can’t always make all the running his stamina is not there. But dadgum, his effort is always there. He has limitations, and he knows them, but he never makes excuses,” Creel said. “He always tries to do his work. And any person like that who could use something as a cop-out and doesn’t has got to be inspirational.”

He has started in only one game this season an 11-1 win over Provine on March 16, a game in which he had two hits and the game-clinching RBI but his quiet leadership hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaches or teammates.

He received the second most votes, behind Beauman, in voting for team captain this season.

“Earlier this year, I made a comment that Vicksburg baseball wouldn’t be the same without John Reynolds, and it really wouldn’t. What he brings to the table is attitude and the way he carries himself, and that’s what we’ve got to have,” Beauman said. “That makes me feel good. That tells you people have a lot of respect for him … That just shows that you don’t have to be on the field to be considered a leader. It’s what you do in the dugout, what you do at practice every day, and how you carry yourself and how people treat you that make you a leader. And he definitely does all that stuff.”