Ball Is Life. Organs Are Too.
Story and photo by Alexis Mercer
April of last year, Justice Long was busy convincing his kidney specialist that he had to race in the Regional Track meet before he could start dialysis. It was looking as though that was going to be the path he would have to take since his kidney function was down to less than 6% and he was still 2nd on the regional kidney donor registry.
So Long would attend school, go to practice or a meet to run hurdles and high jump, often competing in three or four events at 100% effort, then literally collapse at home, not to wake up for a few hours, if at all before starting all over again the next day. Exhaustion was the name of the game.
Then Mark Linsley came along. Linsley, a groomsman in Justice Long’s dad, Jason’s, wedding, was
a perfect match for kidney donation. And as soon as all the tests came through as such, both Justice and Mark were ready for the life-altering operations.
It was in June that the surgeries occurred. Justice was dreading having to stay in bed and inactive for weeks. This is just the kind of kid he is. Always moving, always thinking and always ready for adventure. When he was told by his doctors that he wouldn’t be allowed to play soccer in the fall, he was having a hard time with that news. And he decided that wasn’t going to be his fate.
In what was a remarkable recovery, Justice did indeed set foot on the soccer field last fall. He played his senior season with his dad as his coach and the teammates with whom he has been through so much in his soccer career.
Also this past fall, Justice signed with Cornerstone University to run track on an athletic scholarship. This based on his times when his kidney wasn’t even working.
Come the winter season, Justice transitioned into basketball, playing on the Varsity team. He started thinking of a way he could thank his donor, Mark, and in the process raise awareness for Organ Donations. And so began his planning for the basketball game where Organ Donation would be the highlight.
Justice organized the night with help from his parents, staff members and friends. He sold t-shirts reading “Ball is Life. So are organs.” He arranged for an Organ Donation representative to attend the game to allow fans to sign up to become donors.
On Friday night, the gymnasium was packed with green ‘Ball is Life’ t-shirts for the rivalry between Grant High School and Newaygo. Both teams’ players warmed up in the bright t-shirts, and coaches on both sides wore the shirts throughout the game. The hostile environment that normally surrounds the rivalry game was instead one of two communities coming together to make a positive difference.
Prior to the National Anthem, Justice had the chance to thank everyone for attending and making the night a success. He also had the opportunity to thank Mark Linsley, who was present in the audience. “Although I’ll never be able to repay you for what you did,” said Long, “I hope this is a start.”
Justice Long now has a chance to live a “normal” life.
Though with his enthusiasm, joy and zest for life and desire to change the world for the better, it’s guaranteed that his life will be anything but ordinary.