Walk around Robert and Lucy Elias’ house and you will be sure to find memorabilia that shows the unwavering support that their son, Elijah, has for soccer powerhouse FC Barcelona.
Elijah has a poster, multiple banners spaced out across his bedroom and blankets for an FC Barcelona club that has captured 74 trophies, including 26 La Liga titles. Of all the items that Elijah owns, an autographed picture that he has of his all-time favorite athlete, Lionel Messi, is his most cherished item.
“I just like the way that he thinks, just the way that he reads the game,” Elijah said. “He's always the smartest person on the pitch, always looking two or three steps ahead of everybody.”
Elijah started following FC Barcelona when he was 5 years old. And what drew him to the club was that it had the same name as the first recreational team that he ever played for while with a Soccer Tots youth league.
“He just loved it,” Robert said. “He had asthma as a kid, so we were like, ‘How do we get him active?’ He just loved soccer and excelled at it early. He was constantly with a ball to his feet.”
Elijah continued to ply his craft to become a good player and not only became a naturally great player at soccer, but he began to travel the world with his club team to compete in tournaments in a sport that is almost identical to soccer: futsal.
Futsal is played between two teams of five players each, one of whom is the goalkeeper.
Elijah’s club team, called City Futsal, has travelled to Argentina, Australia, Japan and Spain for tournaments and he has also trained in Brazil. At the World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, he scored two goals against a team from Barcelona, and City Futsal went on to earn fourth place.
For as much as Elijah excelled with a soccer ball on his foot, no dribble or game plan could prepare him for the toughest opponent that he has ever faced in his life: cancer.
One day while in the seventh grade, the Elias family watched Monday Night Football on TV. Elijah took a shower and it was upon the completion of it when he noticed an abnormal growth on his skin. Lucy called Robert upstairs and Robert asked Elijah a few questions. Robert asked Elijah how long he had a growth the size of a baseball on his skin. Elijah said that the lump on his skin had been there for three months.
Not wanting to see the spot grow any larger, Elijah was taken immediately to CareNow Urgent Center in Plano. A physician told the Elias family that Elijah needed to get an ultrasound. They hopped in a car and drove to Children’s Medical Center Dallas for further testing.
A doctor at Children’s Medical Center said that the growth is cancerous, and while the prognosis was good, Elijah needed to have emergency surgery to remove the lump. He underwent surgery that night and he was wheeled out of the surgery room about seven hours later.
"We were just dumbfounded,” Robert said. “We were like, ‘How did this happen?’ Just 12 hours ago, we were having a regular day, playing soccer, enjoying each other's company. Now we're here.”
Despite undergoing surgery that same night, it was a couple of weeks later when doctors learned of Elijah’s official diagnosis. Pathology results confirmed the lump was Rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that affects muscle tissue.
It was just the start of a long road to recovery for Elijah.
Chemotherapy lasted 20 weeks and Elijah went every Monday to receive his next round of treatment. He missed one day of school every week throughout chemotherapy and while he returned to Griffin Middle School, it took away a lot of his ability to play soccer. One time, Elijah tripped while walking outside.
“He said, ‘Daddy, I don’t feel my feet anymore. My feet don’t feel like mine anymore,’” Robert said.
To help get him through the treatment sessions, Lucy made a chain link with pieces of paper that had different Bible verses written on each one. Elijah would remove a different one every week and read it before going to the medical facility.
“I knew that God would get me through it,” he said. “Every time that I read one, it would give me the strength to attack that treatment."
Throughout chemotherapy, Elijah said that he wanted to serve as an inspiration to others. He told Robert one day while he sat on the couch that he wanted to go back to school and educate other people about cancer. Elijah and the teaching staff at Griffin put together videos to show students and faculty members.
“It was a huge burden off his chest,” Robert said.
On his final day of treatment, a surprise ceremony was held for Elijah at Griffin. The Colony head boys soccer coach Lee Weddall came out and surprised him with Cougar soccer gear and made him an honorary captain. Everyone in attendance wore pink, which is Elijah’s favorite color.
"It was definitely a very heart-warming moment," Elijah said. "I wasn't expecting it all, because they surprised me. They told me go up to middle school to do test corrections. I was just in awe to have all of those people around me to support me."
Following the ceremony, Elijah was given a police escort to Children’s Medical Center Dallas, where 100 people with signs greeted him upon entry and he went on to complete his final round of chemotherapy.
Elijah resumed playing soccer in the eighth grade.
In high school, he was on The Colony’s junior varsity team before Elijah, Yosmar Reyes, Abdullah Boutari, Franklin Corona and Victor Esquivel-Ventura were all promoted to the Cougars’ varsity team their sophomore years.
As a senior, Elijah, a midfielder, scored 13 goals and added six assists, helping to lead The Colony to its first district title since 1998 and later its first playoff victory since 2014 after a shootout win against Frisco Liberty in the bi-district round.
"The district championship probably had to be the best highlight for all of high school for me, because it was something that I had been dreaming about,” he said.
This fall, Elijah will continue his soccer career at Colorado Christian University in Lakewood, Colo.
"What drew me to their program was that they were going to allow me to continue to play soccer and also allow me to grow in my faith and that they told me that they wanted to rebuild their program around me," he said.
If Elijah can beat cancer, he is sure to beat an opposing defender with his feet while in college.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Robert said.