Things just seemed to come together somehow.
Harrison Willing, a 13-year-old eighth grader from Quakertown, PA, has been a diehard Dolphins fan ever since James Harrison swapped Steelers gold for Miami blue a few seasons ago.
The team, not the player, stuck, and watching Jarvis Landry, Cameron Wake and others battle their way into the playoffs last winter helped make Harrison’s battle with Leukemia a little bit easier.
So it was perhaps serendipity that just an hour from his house, the Dolphins were in town from Miami partaking in a joint practice with the Eagles Tuesday morning.
A few weeks ago, the phone rang and a group called “Light the Night,” arranged to have Harrison meet Landry and Wake while watching the Fins practice up close and personal in what they call a “Random Act of Light.”
“It’s fate,” Harrison’s grateful mom Danielle said. “It is very cool, it means a lot to him, the Dolphins mean a lot to him, we have our ‘Team Harrison bracelets’ and he picked out the colors, Dolphins colors and it keeps his focus on something else. He knows he is a winner no matter what.”
Winning in football means nothing when juxtaposed with a battle between life and death. Thanks to a welcoming community back home near his middle school, Strayer, Harrison’s support group has lifted him up since his January 2016 diagnosis (and through an April 2017 relapse).
“Oh my gosh, everybody has really rallied for him,” Daniele said. “It’s been amazing. He’s not the kind of kid who craves attention or who wants attention and now he has it. From yard sale fundraisers to all kinds of things people have done for him, it’s incredible.”
Fate, again, played a role Monday night, as Harrison just happened to be released from the hospital less than 10 hours before practice at the NovaCare Complex in South Philly was set to begin. But that didn’t really matter. Harrison would have found a way to meet his heroes one way or another.
“We were going to make it,” Harrison said interrupting his mother who added: “His doctors were on board to get him here no matter what.”
“He’s got a no fail attitude. He’s got this.”
After being treated to a spot in the “Brian Dawkins” tent and having a front row look at the Eagles and Dolphins as they scrimmaged together the entire morning, Harrison and his family — his dad, sister, mom — and staffers from the Leukemia and Lymphoma society who arranged the adventure waited patiently to meet his favorite players.
— Evan Macy (@evan_macy) August 22, 2017
“Just seeing Harrison’s face as not only his favorite players walked out with his wristbands on but also Eagles’ players was amazing,” the director of the program, Lauren Innanucci, said. “Maybe on the field [the players] don’t love eachother but off it they support one another and anyone who is going through a tough time.”
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz confirmed Innanucci’s suspiscions, saying he relishes the opportunities he and his fellow NFL players get to interact after practice ends.
“It’s a practice for us,” Wentz said. We come out after a long couple hours practice — we are hot, tired and sweaty and the fans are stoked. They are hot, tired and sweaty too and its really cool to see the kids after practice to bring you back down, you might be high or low after practice but they are always the best part.”
There is no doubt Harrison will have his autographed Dolphins hat and the practice-worn glove Landry gave him by his side as he undergoes a bone marrow transplant in a few weeks — as his battle continues. A battle that ‘Team Harrison’ knows it will win.