Coach Phillip Nasworthy was surprised when he received a call from some students at Kennesaw Mountain High School about a fundraiser they wanted to put together.
The event would be modeled after the TV game show “Wipeout,” where contestants speed through an obstacle course for cash prizes.
The students wanted to build their own “Wipeout” course to raise money — and give him the proceeds, they said, to help with his recent medical bills.
Nasworthy, a football and baseball coach and special education teacher at the school, has been battling cancer for five months.
Last September, he was suffering from flu-like symptoms and visited his local urgent care. He didn’t have the flu. His diagnosis was much worse.
A dangerously high heart rate took him straight to the emergency room. He was admitted to the hospital where, over the next six weeks, he underwent numerous invasive testing procedures including a biopsy through his liver to test a mass on his adrenal gland.
The final diagnosis: Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The disease had spread to his liver and the cancer, doctors told him, was very aggressive. If the first round of chemotherapy didn’t work, they said, he would only have a couple weeks to live.
“I was devastated. I sat on my hospital bed and stared at the wall for hours. I thought it was a death sentence,” he said.
Nasworthy, 33, underwent 96 hours of continuous chemotherapy to complete his first round of treatment. To his surprise, the treatment worked. With renewed hope, Nasworthy began six months of chemotherapy, going for a treatment every three weeks.
The effects of the disease and its treatment were difficult. Four weeks into his hospital stay, he lost 60 pounds and he didn’t get out of bed for a month. Nasworthy later required physical therapy to learn to walk again; even the simplest day-to-day tasks seemed impossible.
“You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, your entire body aches. I had no appetite, my mouth would go numb to things, your joints ache a lot. I remember saying I could literally feel my bones,” Nasworthy said.
However, one of the many things that kept him going was the support of the students, faculty and parents at Kennesaw Mountain High School. Nasworthy said he was under doctors’ orders not to return to work until after his six rounds of chemotherapy were completed. That took six months.
On Feb. 25, Nasworthy was declared cancer-free. Although insurance covered a lot of the costs, Nasworthy said he was still left with thousands of dollars in medical bills.
A week before the coach was scheduled to return to work, he received a call from student Ayoola Makinde. Makinde asked for permission to use Nasworthy’s story for a project in his Advanced Sports Marketing class.
“He’s always been uplifting. Whenever I was having a bad day, he would come check on me to make sure I was good and that really helped me progress throughout the season,” Makinde said.
Gabe Shipman, a junior at Kennesaw Mountain High School, said many of the students in his class are athletes and have all been coached by Nasworthy or are connected to him in some shape or form.
“We knew he’d need help with payments for stuff like chemo and those hospital fees,” shipman said. “They’re not cheap. So, we just wanted to do this for him to support him the way he’s supported us.”
The “Wipe Out” fundraiser will take place at 4:30 p.m. Thursday. The students in the Advanced Sports Marketing class have created a fun-filled obstacle course that will extend the length of a football field. Teams of five can look forward to a dizzy station, jousting arena, get down and dirty with army crawl tires, a football throw and a slip and slide. Prizes will be distributed to the fastest teams to complete the race.
Entry fee is $25 if you register on the school’s website and $30 to anyone who shows up the day of the event. Individual races will also be offered. “Ghost runners” are an option for those who want to support the cause but not run. Participants will receive a T-shirt and a swag bag.
Food vendors including Kabob, Culvers, Broken Halos Barbecue, Yummy Funnel Cakes, Kona Ice and King of Pops are also expected to show and help runners and bystanders’ fuel up some energy.
In the midst of working on this event, another teacher was diagnosed with cancer. English teacher Niki Jaquish beat breast cancer two-and-a-half years ago and was just recently diagnosed with a different type of breast cancer. The students will be donating a percentage of the money they make from the food vendors to come to her aid as well. She will be undergoing chemotherapy every other week for four months.
“It’s the kids that keep me going, and coming to work has kept me focused,” she said. “It’s so overwhelming and humbling. The kids are amazing. They want to help in any way that they can and this is such a beautiful way for them to do that.”