Nothing Can Stop Northern Colorado Athlete from Running at AAU Junior Olympic Games

John Perales sat on the couch at his home in Greeley, Colo. willing himself not to be sick again. 

It was less than two weeks before he and his family were set to travel to Detroit, Mich. for the 51st AAU Junior Olympic Games and he knew he would be unable to go to track practice if he was sick again.

It sounds trivial but, for John, the days without being sick are an incredible feat.

“John has been pretty sickly since he was born,” Kim Perales said. “He’s always had to fight really hard to do normal kid stuff. “
 
John is eight years old. He is close with his sister (who he lovingly calls Coach Tori). His biggest inspiration in track and field is his mom (who he regularly races – and beats – at their home). He can’t stop thinking about his next big dessert (cake, slushies, cotton candy – he’ll have it all).  And his favorite things to do are jump and run. 

By all accounts, John is your normal eight-year-old boy – except that he is sick nearly two weeks out of every month and has been since the day he was born. He and his family keep a tally to see how many days he can go without being sick – his current record is 16.

“We try not to make a big deal about it,” his mother Kim said. “We just try to let him live the most normal life possible. We just try to take the best care of him as we can and let him do as much as we can.”

Within 24 hours of his birth, John was writhing in pain. He twisted and contorted his tiny body while howling in discomfort. Continuously. Endlessly. So much so that his sister Natasha, then in first grade, wrote a story that read:

“My baby brother cries a lot.  My mommy feeds him, and still he cries.  We change his diaper, and still he cries.  We take turns holding him and playing with him, and still he cries.  I make funny faces at him and tickle him, and still he cries.”

His family worked hard to determine the cause, ruling out allergies, intestinal twists, Crohn’s Disease and cancer. There were special formulas, medicines and never-ending appointments with chiropractors, nutritionists, speech therapists – anyone and everyone who might be able to help.

The pain was heartbreaking. 

Daycares wouldn’t allow him to stay because his screams and visible agony was too intense for the staff and uncomfortable for the other children. The family seemingly visited every urgent care in Northern Colorado the way other families tried new restaurants.

“He’s had a lot of stomach, a lot of lymph node issues,” Kim said. “He lives this life of ‘Today’s going to be a good day.’ And sometimes it is, but oftentimes it’s not.”

At five years old, John joined his mom, a coach with local running legend Doug Bell, at the track. It was there that he fell in love with running and, despite all the health issues, John excelled.

The more he ran, the strong he became. And, as he became stronger, the illnesses became less and less frequent – though less frequent for John is still alarmingly common for most kids his age. 

Running track keeps John happy – and, perhaps most importantly, running track keeps John healthier. 

“I just love to run,” John said. 

Kim continued: “I couldn’t be more proud. I know the fight he has had to fight just to be here, so I get emotional. I get emotional every time he runs. When he’s looking good and strong and smiling, I have to try not to cry because who wants anything more than that for their kid?” 

Nothing has held John back.

He still believes he will be the next Steve Prefontaine, a middle- and long-distance runner who competed in the 1972 Olympics. Fresh off another trip to the Emergency Room, just days before he flew to Detroit to compete in the 800m run and long jump, John insisted he was going to “jump out of this world.”

And so he did.

His jumps weren’t the longest and his runs weren’t the fastest. But his journey, his determination and courage to compete in the AAU Junior Olympic Games despite all the odds are nothing short of out of this world.

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