Life is not easy, but it does not require you to give up. Many moments will seem daunting and unbearable, but courage and bravery will always prevail.
In the fall of 2015, Gabriel Oropeza’s life changed forever. He was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a type of cancer that starts in the cells that form bones.
“There was swelling on his right femur and we thought it was maybe a bruise or a pulled muscle, and we iced it and the swelling did not go down,” his mother Jessica Oropeza said. “So the next day, we took him to the doctor and they did X-rays and that’s when they discovered bony mass.”
Oropeza is only 10 years old and over a six-month span, he had a biopsy and six surgeries. This eventually led to him needing to have his right leg amputated to stop the spread of the disease.
“I don’t know if there was an initial reaction because after the X-rays, we were sent over to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) where they had a bed ready for him and since then, it has been test after test after test,” his father Juan Oropeza said.
Jessica Oropeza described her feelings as a whirlwind from the news.
“We didn’t really have time to have emotions. We were in shock,” Jessica Oropeza said. “What helped me cope through it was to look for the blessing amongst everything, because there’s always a blessing amongst a trial. That helped me to continue going through it and to focus on the blessings and that we can get through it.”
After what can only be described an a nightmare, the Oropeza family found their blessing through Azusa Pacific. Gabriel Oropeza was signed to the APU men’s soccer team with the help of Team Impact.
According to their official website, Team Impact’s mission statement declares: “We improve the quality of life for children facing life-threatening and chronic illnesses through the power of team.”
Team Impact works with many different teams from many levels of collegiate sports.
“It was helping him and us find something beyond just what’s in our community and our sphere of influence,” Juan Oropeza said. “It was him finding a family outside that we could make friends with, that would support, be with us, be a strong influence and make a positive impact in his life.”
Juan Oropeza said that this was the first time Gabriel was engaged in soccer and that he has come a long way with his crutches; now he is running on them with his one leg.
Juan explained that it only took Gabriel one day to learn how to run in his crutches because he wanted to do it for practice and to show the Cougars’ soccer team.
Gabriel and his parents have attended every Cougars’ home soccer game this season since he was signed on the team.
His strength and continuous smile are still very present in almost every situation. He does not show any signs of sadness or guilt, and even has some advice for other kids.
“Never give up and never think that you wouldn’t be able to do anything. Just keep pressing forward,” Gabriel Oropeza said. “I just never think about the negative things, [and always] think about the positive things. I finally have a robotic leg and it’s fun.”
The APU men’s soccer team has been very happy with their partnership with Team Impact and the Oropeza family. Head Coach Dave Blomquist and sophomore midfielder Danny Madrigal have been involved with Gabriel Oropeza’s induction to the team from the very beginning.
Madrigal said that a lot of people could learn from Gabriel’s experience, along with his fight and courage during this tough time.
“Never give up. There’s always better days to come and no matter what you’re facing in life with family, with friends, and in high spirit you can get through anything. Gabriel is the epitome of this program and what it’s always been shaped to be. We play for something bigger than just wins and losses,” Madrigal said. “Gabriel is the center of our spirit, always keeping us grateful and humble, and to be grateful for the sport. Wins and losses, we can always just come back from and have that mentality to get better and enjoy the game as much as possible.”
Blomquist expressed how much of an inspiration Gabriel Oropeza is and how he’s proud to have him be part of the team this season. Blomquist puts everything into perspective by comparing losing a game to the experience of someone going through something like Oropeza.
“To keep going. We have a tough loss like this but it’s just a loss in a soccer game,” Blomquist said. “It is tough because the guys put in a ton of effort for over two months and when you put in that much towards something and it doesn’t go the way you want it, it’s difficult. But then you look at somebody who’s had to go through stuff in life and he still has that courage and bravery, then you can learn from that.”
Blomquist said that Gabriel Oropeza has meant the world to the team, especially due to his perseverance and spirit about life, adding that he’s a great and lovable kid.
Gabriel Oropeza said he would never trade this experience for anything else in the world. His parents were overwhelmed with joy when he was signed to the Cougars’ soccer team, and that they are forever a proud part of APU.
“Once we heard the men’s soccer team was going to take him on, we were ecstatic. We found out more about the team, started getting to know people and from there, we kind of developed this relationship where it was like ‘there’s more to this team than just the game itself,'” Juan Oropoeza said. “Now we are APU Cougs.”