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Run With It: J. Dee Marinko

By Alyssa Fox on 10/17/2017 Former Aggie football player and Men's Sitting Volleyball Paralympian, J. Dee Marinko visited campus and shared his story with Aggie athletes on Monday, Oct. 9.-Danae Moore photoFormer Aggie football player and Men's Sitting Volleyball Paralympian, J. Dee Marinko visited campus and shared his story with Aggie athletes on Monday, Oct. 9.-Danae Moore photo

Goodwell, Okla.—Panhandle State athletes and coaches were treated to a special presentation from former Aggie football player, and Men's Sitting Volleyball Paralympian J. Dee Marinko as he visited the Hughes Strong Auditorium on Monday, Oct. 10 to share his incredible story.

Near the end of the year in 2008, J. Dee Marinko made a trip to his local physician for treatment for poison ivy. Marinko mentioned to his doctor that he also had a sharp pain in his left foot and was sent to see a podiatrist. It was during this visit that a mass was discovered in Marinko's left foot, though the podiatrist was optimistic that it was simply a cyst. Marinko was told there was about a one percent chance it could be a cancerous tumor.

Shortly after, Marinko's test results came back and showed what had been feared but never suspected, a cancerous tumor in his left foot. After being sent to see a specialist in Oklahoma City, Marinko had two choices: to undergo attempted therapy and keep his leg, though the chances of the cancer returning were high, or to amputate. At the time, Marinko had a six-month old son at home, and after deliberating with his wife the choice was hastily, but confidently, made to amputate, and the following week he had his left leg surgically removed below the knee.

Marinko had been in the one percent of a ruinous outcome, but he has since made his life about being part of the one percent of hope. A previously competitive athlete and active individual, Marinko may have easily let the despondency of his amputation steer his life down a path of woe, but instead, J. Dee chose to run with it, and the motto of his new take on life was born. "Run With It" has since become his official slogan and provides a constant affirming reminder to Marinko of what he has overcome.

In 2010, Marinko made a trip to Edmond, Okla. and visited the U.S. Paralympic Training Site where he took an interest in sitting volleyball. Marinko was met with challenge after challenge, but that did not slow down the determined athlete in him. Intrepid and resolute in succeeding, he kept focused and hard at work. In 2010, Marinko took part in the ParaVolley World Championships where he and the team came in 10th place overall, and in 2015 Marinko was named USA Volleyball Male Sitting Volleyball Player of the Year and earned 67 points over the course of seven matches that year as Team USA took home the silver medal in the Parapan American Games. He continued on and was a part of the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro where his team came in 8th overall.

One afternoon, while listening to a podcast, Panhandle Volleyball Head Coach Matt Heffner heard Marinko's story and decided to delve further. Heffner was happily surprised to learn Marinko was an Aggie alumni of Panhandle State. Marinko had attended PSU and played football from 1999-2001. Heffner reached out to Marinko and was delighted to hear that the alum would return to campus and share his story with faculty, staff and students.

"It brought back a lot of memories," said Marinko of stepping back onto Panhandle ground, "It was a bright spot for me." He also took notice of the changes the campus has underwent since his former college days. "I had a chance to speak with Dr. Faltyn, University President, and the things he and the administration are doing are just amazing," said Marinko. "I remember when we were doing three-a-days [for football] and we went back to the dorms and there was no AC in Field Hall where I lived," he said nostalgically with a laugh. Marinko was pleased to be able to return to campus and hopes he can return for an Aggie football game at No' Man's Land Stadium in the future.

While on campus, Marinko acted as guest coach and led a seated practice with the Panhandle State volleyball team. He forewarned the Aggies that when he first began his strenuous work-out regime for sitting volleyball, "I had muscles hurting that I didn't even know could hurt." Junior Madison Linton soaked up the Paralympian's athletic knowledge and skill, and the team plans to utilize Marinko's mental and physical focuses throughout the rest of their season. "Working with J. Dee was an exhilarating experience. We had so much fun learning how to play sitting volleyball with someone who is just incredible. I think every single one of us walked away from the gym grateful. He couldn't have come at a better time for our team in the season, he gave us insight on what was really important and how to put it all together to finish our season," said Linton.

When asked what his hope for current Panhandle students was he answered assuredly, "They have a lot of great things in front of them, education is so important and I wish I would have realized that at the time. I did my general education and then I moved on, but everyone there is there for a reason. Your teachers, professors- they are all there because they care. They are not going to waste their time so you shouldn't waste their time either. They are there to teach, but also to care and to help. That's what I would tell my 18-year-old self." Marinko continued, "Have no regrets and take full advantage of what's in front of you."

If he has one piece of advice for students to take away from his story of triumph over an irresoluble situation, he shares this sound guidance, "If you have a bad day, that doesn't mean it's the end of it. If you go to class and you don't pass a test, make tomorrow be better. Don't ever let a bad situation snowball. I was no different than any other kid and now I get to do amazing things and travel the world. Bad things happen all the time but what's important is how you make it positive. I took a really bad situation and I ran with it."