It’s not that hard to roam around the internet and find player profiles. Feature stories about players with a hard life, a unique upbringing, or whatever other details a writer latched onto and said “oh, that sounds cool, let me write about him.” It can be tricky to find a balance between telling an interesting story and telling their story.
In this case, I simply decided that since I had made contact with Shannon, the fun-loving and outgoing mom of senior UTEP defensive back Nik Needham, I would spend some time and space giving some attention to some of Nik’s story. Except I thought I would do it differently, and let Shannon tell the story herself. Here she goes, talking about what she loves most about her favorite football player:
It would be easy to start reeling off some stats from his 12+ years of playing football that led him to UTEP, but you can actually find that information in several locations online. What I can tell you is those stats didn’t happen without a lot of pain, aggravation, and hard work!
Over the last 10 years, Nik lived in four different cities (Long Beach, San Clemente, Buena Park and now El Paso), went to three different high schools, and played on three different high school football teams! He lived with me (a sometimes spazzy/neurotic single mom with the best of intentions) for the first 16 years of his life and then moved in with his dad for his last two years of high school. Nik’s dad and I decided from day one to co-parent and do all we could to support Nik’s passion for football, and so did our extended families.
But enough about us! Let’s get back to what I’m most impressed about with Nik. First, before he developed his love for football and several other sports, Nik loved to sweep!
I’m not kidding, from the time Nik started to walk, he loved sweeping the floor, or sidewalk, or street! One of my best friends even bought him a small broom for his 2nd birthday and I’m pretty sure it was his favorite gift!
That love faded quickly when he discovered a large whiffleball bat that he loved using to hit balls over our house and into the neighbor’s yard. He quickly transitioned into basketball, and I always thought that would be his sport for the long-haul until he started playing Pop Warner football in Lakewood, CA.
He played multiple positions including quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back, and was a two-sport athlete until right before his freshman year in high school when he announced to all of us that he was ‘retiring’ from basketball. My initial thought was one of loss, but when I saw how passionate he was about football, I wanted to support him 100%.
Of course, that didn’t happen without a lot of aggravation because he was the new kid each time he transferred High Schools and had to prove himself each time and earn his ‘stripes’, which he did. Nik’s sophomore year was especially tough but he grew a lot stronger and closer to his family through the typical teenage challenges plus a host of other ones; the death of his older cousin Lolo, moving out of our house for the first time in 16 years and in with his Dad, experiencing the tragic cardiac arrest incident of his 9 year old cousin Lily, and me having brain surgery all in the same year.
Let me backtrack and explain that.
During a 7-on-7 football tournament in the late spring of 2012, Nik’s dad Steve received a call with the devastating news that his nephew (Nik’s cousin/best friend) Lolo Woods had died. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed with sadness the second Steve relayed the message
to me as I stood next to him when he took the call.
I immediately looked for Nik amongst his teammates practicing for the next game and thought, “This is going to completely devastate Nik when he hears about this!” I watched in complete fear as Steve immediately walked over to Nik and broke the news. I was shocked there were no initial tears. He just walked a few steps away from his team practice with his head down. One by one, his teammates and coaches from San Clemente High School walked over to him and patted him on the back with a few consoling words.
And then it was game time.
I stood on the sideline and gave Nik my usual pre-game hand gesture of punching my fist in my hand and he acknowledged me with a nod. I then witnessed Nik and his team playing the most amazing game of the tournament! It was as if they were all playing with a whole new sense of strength and purpose, and it actually took a small piece of the pain away, if only for a few moments.
After the game, Nik’s Grandpa and I were sitting in a baseball field dugout right next to the football field and waited for Nik to finish with
his post-game team meeting. He walked over to us, sat next to me without saying a word, put his head on my shoulder and cried. My heart broke for Nik, Steven, Lolo’s parents and the entire Calhoun/Woods families! Lolo will be forever missed forever by all who knew him.
Shortly after Lolo’s death, Steve and I decided it was time for Nik to move in with him in Anaheim, CA. My heart broke again but I knew it was the best thing for Nik at that time. It was a big adjustment for all of us but we made it work. Nik transferred to Servite, an all-boys Catholic High School in Anaheim, and immediately started to work out with their football program that summer.
Then we were all hit by another tragic incident on July 8 of that year when Nik’s nine-year-old cousin Lily went into sudden cardiac arrest while playing in her family’s pool during a summer BBQ. Lily survived the incident, but she went for about nine minutes without oxygen before they could revive her, and she became completely disabled and unable to speak.
It was later determined that Lily suffered from a congenital heart condition called Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT), also known as a ‘Sudden Death’ syndrome. It’s a heart condition where the heart stops during physical exertion or excitement, and a number of stories of athletes dying instantly without warning during a sport have been found to be a result of CPVT.
But Lily has always been a fighter and a true inspiration to our entire family and anyone who knows her! We’re all so thankful she’s still with us and making slow but steady progress in her recovery. There are no words to describe how beautiful it is to see her face light up with the biggest smile every time she gets a visit from her cousin Nik. He has been there for her slow but amazing journey back to life and although Lily cannot speak, she completely understands everything you say and still has the most amazing laugh, just like her cousin Nik!
As if that year hadn’t dealt us all enough, I became ill again while Lily was still in the hospital. It had been nine years since my previous brain surgery and apparently I needed a ‘tune up’! I was born with a rare brain condition that caused a lot of swelling which required a decompression surgery to accommodate my unusually large brain. (LOL)
Well, my condition had worsened over that same year and I had another brain surgery that October. Everything turned out just fine of course, but it was another life-jolting experience for Nik and our entire family in what I can say was the worst year of our lives. But it was through all of these experiences that we all grew closer and I saw Nik mature very quickly as a strong young man.
The following year was amazing! Nik had transferred schools to join a better football program and had a fantastic year. He met a wonderful group of new friends, played the best football he had ever played, and received a full ride scholarship from UTEP. One of the best parts for me was sitting in the stands at the Buena Park High School graduation ceremony and seeing his name on the ‘Graduates with Honors’ list. My heart almost exploded!
So as I stated before, Nik has had a lot of success on the football field, but it’s his strength and loving heart that has impressed me the most!
That year was the toughest year but had a tremendous impact on Nik; he grew so much from it and developed the strongest, most compassionate, and loving heart I’ve ever seen in a young man his age. We are all so proud of him. That’s the part about Nik you won’t see in his football stats or from his Snapchat and Instagram posts.
Of course I love seeing his football accomplishments and all of his hard work and dedication to the sport, but it’s the young man he’s become that has impressed me the most. He has such kind heart, especially for the elderly and for kids with special needs, and his contagious laugh can turn the darkest days into pure sunshine. On November 4th, 1996, I became Nik’s biggest fan both on and off the field and I couldn’t possibly be more proud of him!