Worthington Athletes Launch National Campaign For Coach Battling Cancer, Then Shave Heads As Sign Of Support

Worthington Athletes Launch National Campaign For Coach Battling Cancer, Then Shave Heads As Sign Of Support
Worthington Athletes Launch National Campaign For Coach Battling Cancer, Then Shave Heads As Sign Of Support

It’s a new lease on life for a local high school baseball coach battling colon cancer.

When doctors told Stephen Gussler he had only months to live, he refused to give up.

And now, five years later, he could be one surgery away from being cancer-free.

Pre-season training is in full swing in the Thomas Worthington High School weight room for the Cardinal baseball team.

The local community has embraced the coach and health teacher with the “Gussstrong” campaign for two years.

"It's real hard, every day is a battle, but without the love and support of other people, I'm not sure I'd make it," said Coach Gussler.

Gussler has been at the helm for the past sixteen years, but he is taking a break from his coaching duties this season to concentrate on beating cancer.

But whether he's in the dugout or not, his influence is still paramount with his players.

"Coach Gussler taught me pretty much everything I know about baseball, and through that, he's taught me a lot about life too,” said Senior Captain Tommy Pischel.  “Coach says give everything you're all, no matter what.  If you're not going to do it 100 percent, why do it at all.”

Coach Gussler says it's all about giving back in his role as a teacher and coach.

"But more importantly I do believe it's an obligation,” Gussler adds.  “I believe we all have to live our life to the fullest, whatever profession you're in.  You have to give it your best, because there are people counting on you."

The Worthington community has returned the favor, selling hundreds of Guss-Strong t-shirts over the past two years.

And just this weekend, a twitter campaign took off to tell his story nationwide with #getgussonespn.

"When I got the tweet, it was unbelievable," Gussler said.

And in another show of solidarity and support, his varsity players all got together to shave their heads, just like their coach.

"We are going bald for the boss," said Senior Outfielder Tommy Hoerauf.

"I love it, cause it's not just about me, it's about every one of us battling, giving our best, knowing that great things can happen," Gussler said.  “Every day when I get a text message from somebody, or a tweet or an email, that says, hey, you've inspired me, they don't realize they've inspired me, because I'm not sure I could make it without them.”

“I've told people ever since I've had cancer, I've lived a better life,” Gussler adds.  “In terms of appreciating the day to day stuff:  loving my family, loving the people around me, being kind to others, sharing - all those things have become so much more important, because of all this, and these kids remind me of that when they say, hey, you've got a great message, let's send it to everybody.”

The coach says he will be in the dugout as much as he can this upcoming season, whether as a scorekeeper or even a water boy – but just to be there as an inspiration for his players.

“I want to be out there as much as I can, because, I love the game of baseball,” he says.  “I think it's a great teaching method, and I know the kids want me there.”

He says it only makes sense, as the team goes for a district championship for a third year in a row.

“The whole idea is let’s keep this thing going,” he says.  “It’s been a lot of fun.”