Tuesday morning, the Christmas wishes of three local children battling cancer came true.
Chris Baker, in association with the American Cancer Society, decided to invite the children to Dove Valley to gather around a big Christmas tree and give them a few early presents they had asked for.
“I had an aunt die from cancer recently, and I have another aunt that just got diagnosed with cancer,” Baker said. “I just thought it would be a good idea to give back to some kids who are struggling with cancer.”
So Melinda, 11, and Derek, 16, came with their families to Dove Valley for an early Christmas.
The children had written wish lists, which Baker and teammates Robert Ayers and Alphonso Smith took with them as they shopped for gifts for each child.
Later in the afternoon, Baker headed to a local hospital to meet another 11-year-old, Jonathan, to personally hand him his gifts as the child recovers from surgery.
Baker got the event rolling because of how directly cancer has affected his family, and it didn’t take much convincing to get Ayers and Smith involved, as well.
“Zero,” Smith said. “He said it’s three kids that have been diagnosed with cancer and they’re going to make a Christmas list. I was like, ‘I’m in.’ It was my pleasure. I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
As the children tore open their gifts, their siblings, parents and friends watched intently. The three players all stood together by a Christmas tree, waiting as each present was revealed.
There were iPods, board games, DVDs, a jersey — even a laptop, a Nintendo Wii and a flat-screen television.
“Whatever they wanted on their wish list — they got everything they wanted,” Baker said. “Just to see them with a smile on their face with the struggle that they go through, it’s all worth it.”
Melinda sat in her mother’s lap as she opened each present, smiling as she unwrapped gift after gift. After Derek unwrapped a gift, he would proudly display it to the group, as family members snapped photos.
When Derek received an authentic No. 56 jersey from Ayers, he put it on immediately, and of course the rookie linebacker signed it.
“Those kids, being so young and so happy, just to see them smile, it humbles you a little bit,” Smith said. “It almost made me cry a little bit, because I can’t imagine being that young and going through the things that they’re going through.”
But you wouldn’t be able to tell their struggles from how happy the children were on this Tuesday morning, just three days from Christmas.
After she finished opening her presents, Melinda stood up and hugged all three Broncos one by one, thanking them for all they had provided. Needless to say, all three couldn’t stop smiling.
When Derek was finished, he handed Ayers, Baker and Smith letters. He wrote to them, thanking them for their gifts and explaining how he hopes his cancer can help other children through their struggles.
“That meant a lot, the letter that he wrote me,” Ayers said. “It was coming from the heart, and the gifts that we gave were coming from the heart. That’s what made this Christmas a good thing.”
Smith agreed. And as the players and children parted ways, everyone exchanged hugs, and some even offered phone numbers, promising to be there for support.
“That’s probably the best gift that I’m going to get this entire year for Christmas,” Smith said of the children’s reactions. “Just feeling that hug from Melinda, it was so authentic, it was so real. Just to see (Derek), how he turned around like, ‘Look what I have!’ It’s something that I’ll always remember and I’ll always cherish.”
-Gray Caldwell, DenverBroncos.com
Check out the Broncos TV coverage of the event:
A few more pictures from the gift exchange are below.