In today’s episode of This Hits Different, Shelby Cassesse tells the story of Brock Kitterman, a triathlete and hockey player who has overcome cancer and blindness to reach the US National Blind Hockey team.
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It was never a struggle for Brock Kitterman’s mom Tammy to get her son off the couch.
“He liked to ride his bike and he liked to run around in the backyard,” Tammy says.
“We went down to YMCA every day throughout my summer break whenever the weather was nice, just to go and swim and hang out in the sun,” adds Brock.
He was so active as a child that Tammy mentioned a triathlon to gage Brock’s interest. The now senior at Bethel Park jumped right in.
“He participated. We're all excited and happy and I said, ‘hey, let's stick around, let's watch these kids get their trophies and win,’” Tammy says. “And they're counting down, third place, second place, first place, Brock Kitterman. I mean, we were shocked.”
Winning your first triathlon is impressive for anyone.
But Brock isn’t just anyone. He’s a cancer survivor. He’s also legally blind and hearing impaired.
The remaining effects of advanced retinal blastoma, an eye cancer, diagnosed when Brock was an infant.
“They weren't even sure if it was going to be curable or even treatable,” he says. “But thankfully my parents, as wonderful as they are, fought.”
His little body went through a lot — intense chemo, 48 procedures under anesthesia, trip after trip to specialists.
The treatments worked and the tumors shrank enough for Brock to regain some vision. But it’s not something the 17-year-old thinks about much.
“I have a much greater future than I will have if I look backwards,” Brock says. “So to me it's not about how I got here, it's about where can I go from here.”
Inspired by his dad’s love of hockey, Brock later got involved with the Steel City Iceburgs, a special needs team. He later became one of the first members of only the fourth blind hockey team in the US, the Pittsburgh Rhinos.
“It kind of hit me that I might be an intermediate player right now, but if I really work, I could reach that stage of being a professional to play internationally and to represent my country,” he says.
He got better and better, eventually getting an invitation to tryout for the US National Blind Hockey team. It’s a process that, if you make it to the end as Brock did, takes about two years.
Sitting on the bus one afternoon last month, his phone pinged.
“Team USA's roster for 2022,” he explains. “11 from the top. Brock Kitterman. My first action was to call my mom to celebrate.”
“I’m so full of pride for him and he makes us proud in everything he does,” Tammy says. “He works so hard. It was definitely a night we celebrated.”
Ten years of blood, sweat and tears had paid off.
“Finally made my ultimate dream come true,” he says. “Ever since I was young, I was watching the Olympics and always like, I want to go there one day. I want to be a part of that.”
The triathlons also never fell to the wayside. Brock has competed in over 80 of them. It requires hours of training each day, on top of hockey and school. Brock says he can’t play video games or watch TV, so movement is where he goes for happiness, comfort, and community.
“Just the sense of friendship I have in these athletics are what drive me above and beyond to push myself to the breaking point multiple times a week just so I can go and enjoy one weekend with these guys,” Brock says. “It's just to me, it makes my year and it just keeps giving me a reason to keep on going.”
Though Brock may not look back, his mother certainly does. At the 12-week-old who didn’t register she was standing over his crib, at the competitive little boy.
It makes looking at her son now, the paratriathlete, hockey player representing his country, future college student and computer scientist that much more special.
“Has it been hard for him? Absolutely. Absolutely,” Tammy says. “He's that kid that stands out, you know, he's got hearing AIDS, he's got a cane, he's not playing sports with your typical high school kid. He's handled everything so well and again, so proud. He's definitely a fine young man.”