GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - The strongest member of the Stockton University track and field team took a lap around the school's track Wednesday evening with the rest of the Ospreys.
His time didn't matter, for 5-year-old Haegan Endres has already won his most important race.
When he was 14 months old, Haegan was diagnosed with medullablastoma and doctors found an aggressive brain tumor in his cerebellum. He underwent surgery to remove the tumor, then endured eight months of chemotherapy, 31 rounds of radiation and a stem cell transplant.
"He's been through a lot, but he's held up incredibly well," his mother, Michelle Endres said. "He wears hearing aids, had delayed speech and was developmentally delayed, but still keeps up with his peers. The doctors told us there's a five-year window before he can be declared cancer-free and it will be five years in October."
Haegan and his twin brother, Sam, joined the Ospreys track team through Team IMPACT, a program that gives college sports programs the opportunity to interact with children who are dealing with life-threatening or chronic illnesses. Stockton is one of more than 100 schools in the United States and Canada to have "signed" new teammates.
Michelle and her husband, Steven, first heard about the program at the Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia (CHOP). Stockton women's soccer coach Nick Juengert told Ospreys track coach Jayson Resch about it and Resch invited Haegan and his brother to the track.
"This is their third time here," Resch said. "We wanted them to get to know the team a little bit before we had our big day today. They've already had a big impact on the team. We're hoping they can come to our meet on Saturday (the Osprey Open) and maybe run a 100-meter dash or something. If not, we'd love them to be part of the community meets we hold in the summer on Thursday nights."
The men's and women's track team formed a human tunnel for Haegan, Sam, their parents, and 6-month-old William to enter the track from the gym and greeted them with loud cheers and applause.
After their signing ceremony, Haegan and Sam joined the team for the run. Haegen made it about three-quarters of the way around the track before deciding to stop and pick up a few pine needles for souvenirs.
"They are twins, but they have very different personalities," Michelle said. "Sam is loud and rambunctious, while Haegan sort of just goes with the flow."
Michelle said Haegan's problems first surfaced when he started tilting his head when he walked. One day at day care, he had trouble waking up from his nap, fell twice and then got sick, prompting Michelle and Sam to rush him to the emergency room. Then the tumor was discovered.
Despite the grueling and painful treatment, however, Haegan's outlook never changed.
"There were times when he would get upset when he was on a feeding tube," Michelle said. "And he gave up walking for a while, but he was still crawling everywhere. He was his normal self."
After the run, Haegan and Sam posed for a team picture, then joined Ospreys junior middle-distance runners Mike Scala and Favad Akhtar for some play time with "Talon," Stockton's mascot, who the kids thought was a turkey.
After a few minutes, they waved goodbye to Talon, then hugged Scala and Akhtar.
"You can't help but smile when you're around them," Scala said. "After what Haegan went through, it makes you realize there are more important things in life."