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SPARTAN SPOTLIGHT | J-MAN, JUICE BOX AND THE TWU COMMUNITY

SPARTAN SPOTLIGHT | J-MAN, JUICE BOX AND THE TWU COMMUNITY

This is a story about J-Man.

But it’s also about Juice Box, Liz and the GOAT. And, in reality, it’s about the Calebs, Leighton and Scott, Vaggeli and Bus, Mike, Lori, Paul, Denive, Betty, Bob and Ruth-Ann.

And, well, everyone else in between.

But, to understand this story, you have to understand the main characters.

And to understand Jordan Kasian, who is affectionately and most commonly known as J-Man, you have to go back to his infancy – quite literally.

When most infants are simply trying to navigate the perils of sitting upright, a five-month-old Jordan – he didn’t adopt the J-Man moniker until middle school – was already figuring out how to crawl. By the time he was 10 months old, the spry youngster was scaling backyard fences and toddling off, escaping from the confines of his family’s Calgary home.

Constantly competing with the family puppy, Ritz, for hierarchical power – Jordan grabs Ritz’s tail and runs away…Ritz grabs Jordan’s diaper and drags him around – it seemed the soccer-loving goalkeeper was destined to be a fighter from an early age. That’s important information.

To understand Austin Kasian, who is Jordan’s older brother by two years and largely goes by Juice Box around Trinity Western’s campus and abroad, it might easiest just to go back to the first home game of this year’s Canada West regular season.

In the 72nd minute of what would be a 7-1 victory for the Spartans over visiting Victoria, captain Joel Waterman substituted off. Looking to hand off the captain’s armband, he found the fifth-year Juice Box. The bench erupted with glee and immediately ensured a nearby photographer snapped the moment. Often a starter, Juice Box is a fan favourite, but, more importantly, he’s a “glue guy” within the Spartans. He’s the player with a magnetic pull in the locker room and the one everyone loves to see succeed. Juice Box with the armband was a galloping image of the soul of the team.

To understand the two of them together is simply to know that, as Juice Box claims, they’re “inseparable.” They have the same friends. They play on the same soccer team. They go to the same school. They live in the same house. And, for the most part, that’s the way it’s been their entire lives.

“It was just always Austin and Jordan,” says their mom Liz.

To understand the rest of the characters – both named and not named in this story – you only have to hear from the GOAT.

“The community of Trinity Western and people here are unbelievable,” says Mike Kasian, who is Jordan and Austin’s dad, but within familial spheres is referred to as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). “They’re all giving people and we’re blessed to have them around.

“To have people care enough to get engaged was unbelievable. Trinity Western has given us so much. Instead of being alone and scared, you’re like, ‘I can’t believe I have all these people backing you up and sending all these positive vibes. That helps so much. Suddenly you’re not alone.”

And for the Kasians, the story could have been very lonely. It wasn’t.

For Liz, GOAT, J-Man, Juice Box, there are two dates that will never be forgotten: Dec. 11, 2017 and Feb. 22, 2018.

On Dec. 11, 2017 in a doctor’s office in Vancouver, the Kasians learned that J-Man had a malignant tumour. At 19 years old, the second-year Spartans goalkeeper had a fibromyxoid sarcoma.

The day marked a three-month journey from the moment TWU teammate Vaggeli Boucas encouraged J-Man to get a lump near his right shoulder examined to finding out he had cancer.

It was also the lowest point in what had been one of the most challenging periods of his life.

Coming into his second year at TWU, J-Man had hopes of taking over the starting goaltending duties for the Spartans. Instead, first-year Sebastian Colyn, otherwise known as Bus, seized the role and J-Man was relegated to a back-up position.

Sitting beside his brother in a quaint room with an inquisitive mind driving the conversation, J-Man is genuine.

“I was frustrated at the start,” J-Man says. “Obviously, I wanted the starting role. But Bus deserved it and his year was fantastic.”

Taking a backseat to Bus on game days, J-Man was the consummate teammate, pushing the rookie netminder every day in practice. By the end of the year, Bus was named to the Canada West All-Rookie Team, finished second in the conference with eight wins and was a key reason for the Spartans silver-medal winning performance in the Canada West Final Four. But behind the scenes and far from the spotlight that had shone on Bus, was J-Man.

“If it wasn’t for Jordan Kasian, Sebastian Colyn doesn’t have the season he had last year,” says TWU coach Mike Shearon.

From his position on the pitch, Juice Box witnessed the partnership firsthand.

“J-Man was exceptional for Bus. He was just trying to be the best team guy he could be and was there to make everyone better.”

And for J-Man, as tests and results started to filter in over the course of the season, soccer became an escape.

“Soccer was actually great for me,” J-Man says. “It was an hour and a half when all this was off my mind. It was also a way to get some anger out in a way. I could just have fun, forget about it all and do something I enjoyed.”

For just a moment, the Langley, B.C. based doctor was a bit startled. He hadn’t expected to see seven people – most of them soccer players – in a room more befitting of a single patient. Walking into the room in early October appointment, the doctor saw J-Man, Juice Box and five others. This was the day he learned the lump in his chest was indeed something serious and J-Man was surrounded by support.

“The guys would run through walls for J-Man,” Juice Box says. “I think the doctor knew it was a tight knit group and that was a special moment for sure.”

Reflecting for a moment, J-Man recalls the day.

“It was really reassuring knowing I had people who cared about what was going on in my life. It was genuine.”

It was also in that moment when Juice Box’s perpetual positivity continued, unwavering. Walking out of the doctor’s office, J-Man was a realist with serious concerns. Juice Box was Juice Box.

“It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t worry about it,” Liz says. “He does. But you just can’t tell Austin not to see the positive. It’s just not in his world.”

A year removed from that day, Juice Box sits on a rickety chair in a room with a similar size to that of the doctor’s office. He looks up at his brother.

“I didn’t want you to be scared and I wanted to convince myself that it’d be fine.”

But on Dec. 11, J-Man had to make a phone call to Juice Box.

He had to tell his brother things weren’t fine. He had to tell him his cancer was malignant.

“It was scary,” recalls Juice Box. “But then I was like, ‘This is J-Man. He’s tough and he’s a fighter and he’s going to do this. He’s going to be able to say that he defeated cancer.’”

The doctors told the Kasians surgery would be required to remove the malignant tumour.

Over the next two months, the Kasians, the soccer team and the TWU community waited. His surgery day didn’t arrive until Feb. 22, 2018.

The night before the surgery had a birthday akin to that of a 10-year-old. It was awesome.

Needing to elevate his sugar levels prior to the surgery, while also ensuring he would get adequate rest, J-Man hosted a revolving door of teammates and friends featuring dinner, a bunch of candy and some board games. Oh, and everyone was out of the house by midnight.

It was the culmination of a week of J-Man. Having stayed in Calgary in the two months before his surgery, J-Man came back to TWU for the last week prior to the surgery day. It was a week of hanging out with best friends and teammates.

“It was the best thing for him,” says his mom Liz.

The GOAT continues: “It is a brotherhood (with the team). (TWU) is a great place to be. He was with his brother and his best friends. It’s safe and it’s good. It’s everything you’d want for your kid.”

The birthday party begat the surgery.

And the next day’s surgery saw the surgeon take out a puck-sized tumour. Along with it, J-Man lost part of his collarbone, his pectoral muscle and parts of two ribs.

All the while, TWU prayed, led by Liz’s best friend Lori Johnson, who is the mother of current Spartans Caleb and Leighton Johnson and alum Taylor Johnson. The Kasians and Johnsons are long-time family friends. So, it only made sense Lori would be helping and praying every step of the way.

“They were our prayer warriors,” Liz says.

“It was like anytime Jordan wasn’t doing well, they would pray and Jordan would turn around. The prayers that surrounded Jordan was incredible.”

Battling through a bevy of serious post-surgery complications, J-Man fought through it all, while his coaches, teammates and friends prayed.

“We just had to rely on God and pray for God to help this family get through this,” Mike Shearon says. “The understanding of community and how important that is and the power of prayer – those things go hand-in-hand and this reminded me of that.”

Seven months removed from the surgery day and back in Langley on a late-September afternoon, Liz and the GOAT (in this moment, he’s Mike) piece the story together. Sometimes, the message is repetitive. That’s a good thing.

“We just felt that we were so blessed from the Trinity Western community,” Liz says.

Paul and Kolbi Verhoeff, who are parents of Spartan alums and proud Spartans supporters but don’t really know the Kasians all too well, let Liz, Mike and Jordan stay at their house while they were on vacation.

Spartan alum Gogo Vitic, who never played with either Kasian and had only been at their house once in Calgary due to a loose connection, offered up his home for the family to stay.

Betty Boucas – the mom of teammate Vaggeli Boucas – was amongst an army of people bringing food to the Kasian.

Denive Howe, who didn’t know the Kasians at all but whose kids, Hilary and Jackson, play on TWU’s volleyball teams, was in constant prayer for J-Man.

A local bed and breakfast run by a lovable couple – Bob and Ruth-Ann – blocked off nearly a month to ensure the Kasians had a place to stay. They also made them fresh scones every morning.

That’s just a snippet.

“We were just so blessed at the time,” Mike says. “Trinity Western is such a great school to be at in situations like this.”

It’s been an impressive 2018 season for the Spartans. Through 12 games, they have just one loss and have solidified their grasp on second place in the Pacific Division. Juice Box has started seven of the nine games he’s played, has three goals, including the game-winner against Thompson Rivers, and three assists.

The team has dreams of making it back to the national championship tournament for the first time since 2009.

And, behind the scenes acting as an assistant goalkeeper coach, it’s J-Man who has been amongst the team’s deepest inspirations.

“People love J-Man,” Juice Box says. “To see him show up is definitely inspirational. To know what he went through and that he still wants to be with us, I think it just makes you work a little harder. There are so many people that care about him and want him to be here.”

While he’s not on the field as a player with the Spartans and likely never will be, most days J-Man is there working with the goalies and helping Bus improve every day.

“I love it,” J-Man says. “I love just taking shots at Bus and making him better.”

On a cool, foggy morning with a photogenic sun rising above the Spartans practice pitch, the team gathers behind the Kasian brothers in a haphazard semicircle for a photo.

For these the Kasian brothers, the team will do anything – the least of which is standing around on a frosty late-September day for extra 15 minutes…just to get the right shot.

“I think this whole situation brought us closer together as a team,” Shearon says. “It’s easy to talk about a brotherhood when things are going well. It’s a lot harder to say that it exists when things go poorly.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my team and how they rallied around Jordan and around the Kasians and how much love they have for a teammate. No matter what happens on the field, that’s something I can look back on and be proud of.”

There’s a running joke in the Kasian family that J-Man might just be immortal.

Of course, there was the whole climbing fences before he was a year old and surviving the battle with Ritz for local supremacy.

But far beyond that, was a unheard-of year, in 2010, when a 12-year-old J-Man fought off swine flu, scarlet fever and shingles. That’s right.

Fast forward to 2015 and J-Man had to undergo a cardiac ablation – heart surgery – to correct an issue in which his heartbeat would race far above normal rates during high-energy activities.

Then, he got diagnosed with cancer and promptly beat that too.

Most recently, a mid-September call from J-Man to Liz may have all but confirmed his immortality – or at least his ability to push through and carry on.

Liz picked up.

“I got a tingle,” J-Man exclaimed on the other side of the line.

“What?”

“I got a tingle,” he repeated.

For the first time since his surgery, he felt nerves in his right chest. Feeling was returning. It was a moment of sheer joy.

When Mike and Liz sit back and recall the last 12 months of their lives, it’s best and, most simply, described as crazy.

It was.

And amongst the craziness was a family, a team and community that came together.

Liz leans forward in her chair. She’s spent the last hour laughing, crying, recalling angry moments, scary moments, the joyful moments and the funny moments.

She looks up.

“And you know what,” she says. “I can’t wait to keep meeting people I’ve never met just to say ‘Thank you.’”