Teen overcomes cancer, pain enroute to gold medal

‘I want to beat this thing. I’m not going to let it beat me.’

BREMERTON — Nathaniel Faustino, 16, was almost forced to give up karate ­­when he was unexpectedly diagnosed with bone cancer four years ago. But he wasn’t intimidated by the disease.

“I was looking into the future thinking, ‘I want to beat this thing. I’m not going to let it beat me,’” he said.

A bone graft and 10 months of chemotherapy at Seattle Children’s Hospital sidelined the athlete until he was able to move around again. Faustino has been in remission since and represented Team USA at the 2017 International Karate Goju-Ryu Association Championship in Richmond, B.C., from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.

But he had a hurdle to leap after the first day of the competition.

“An elite athlete threw him to the ground and soccer-kicked him right in the mid-back,” Nathaniel’s mother, Ruth, said. “My son was writhing in pain and was laid out on a gurney in the medic tent.”

Karate instructor Chieko Huse and Nathaniel’s parents wanted the teenager to forfeit so he would not injure himself further. But he had no intention of giving up. Nathaniel repeatedly asked his parents to let him continue.

“I kept texting them, ‘Please don’t take me out of the tournament,’ ” Nathaniel said. “I just kept insisting because I felt that when I got hurt, I didn’t accomplish what I needed to accomplish.”

Despite pain in his leg and back, he convinced his parents to let him stay in the competition. His parents watched nervously as Nathaniel beat a competitor from Team Canada and then won Team USA’s only gold medal by besting a competitor from Team India in the final round.

Huse, who Nathaniel refers to by the honorific “sensei,” said Nathaniel won the gold not because he was the most athletic, but because he was the most driven to succeed. He refused to let pain interfere with his performance.

‘The world just stopped’

Nathaniel’s father, Roger, recalled when his son was diagnosed.

“One night, he had leg pain,” he said. “So, I gave him ibuprofen. The next night, pain is back. So, I gave him another dose and he woke up in tears.”

A physical therapist recommended the family to Dr. David Gent, a pediatrist at Kitsap Foot and Ankle.

“He could have just stopped and said, ‘OK, we’ll get you some narcotics,’ but he didn’t,” Roger said. “He [examined] all the way up his shin and said, ‘There’s something there.’ It could have easily been misdiagnosed.”

When they first heard their son had bone cancer, Nathaniel’s parents said their “world just stopped.” He had a bone graft in his right leg and, after recovery, continued to attend karate classes three times a week at Kitsap Tennis and Athletic Center in Bremerton.

You wouldn’t know it by his constant smile, but Nathaniel’s in pain again; because of the graft, his right leg is now more than an inch longer than his left leg and he’ll have to go in for surgery. He hopes he’ll have surgery in February.

“I don’t know,” Nathaniel said with a shrug. “There might be more surgeries if my leg continues to grow.”

Meanwhile, he continues to attend karate classes at Kitsap Tennis and Athletic Center, although he’s been sitting out lately. His little brother, C.J., and parents attend regularly as well.

Nathaniel and his parents believe fighting cancer has given Nathaniel the resilience he needs to beat the odds — not just in karate, but in life.

“We are extremely proud of him, regardless of the medal,” Roger said. “All the kids at Children’s Hospital are tough as hell. Any kid that goes through something like that — they deserve the gold medal every time.”

— Jacob Moore is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at jmoore@soundpublishing.com