WINNIPEG Rifles defensive back Ryan Messner wasn't in the starting lineup for their home opener against the Edmonton Huskies, but he's still very much part of the team.
Messner, 22, was diagnosed with testicular cancer this summer, and while it has kept him off the gridiron, he still contributes to the team whatever way he can.
'I'm just trying to keep on going. It's just another mountain to climb and go up'
"It just kind of came out of nowhere. I was just feeling some pain that wasn't normal one day and it just got to the extreme where I couldn't walk or stand," he said.
After some tests, Messner was told he had cancer in his right testicle. On July 11, he had surgery to remove the tumour and took some time to rest.
Messner was behind on his training schedule but was optimistic about returning. If everything went to plan, he would probably get the chance to join the Rifles roster three or four weeks into the season.
The following week, Messner went back to hospital with back pains caused by a lymph node growing around his stomach. His cancer had spread.
"Now I'm faced with that, and everything is just happening so fast here," Messner said. "This news came and it doesn't look so good."
Messner has been through tests to make sure the cancer hasn't spread to other parts of his body, such as his lungs, and he'll be starting chemotherapy this week.
The Rifles have kept Messner involved with the program as much as they can. A fifth-year veteran, Messner helped get them prepared during training camp and offered the rookies any type of advice he could.
"I come out to some of the practices when I can and they're really supportive. My DB coach (Kasali Akili) is a good guy and he tried his hardest to get me involved as best I can," Messner said. "He tries to get me on the bus even though I'm not playing. He does whatever he can to keep me active with the team. They're all family."
While some athletes could get discouraged after receiving a similar diagnosis, Messner has learned to take it in stride.
"I'm just trying to keep on going. It's just another mountain to climb and go up. You can't look at things negatively, I'm always in a positive mood and I do things the way I would have done them before," he said.
The Winnipeg Rifles reached out and helped Messner's cause during their home-opener loss Sunday against the Huskies. A portion of tickets sales, in addition to proceeds from fundraising events, will go to the Canadian Cancer Society's Manitoba division so Messner, and others, can continue their battles against cancer. Messner said the involvement of the Rifles not only benefits himself, but the community.
"I love what the whole program is doing now," he said. "They're getting the guys involved in the community and it's great. It means a lot to me that they're doing this."