LIBERTY, Mo. — There’s a plaque right before you throw a javelin at Liberty North that says “grip it and rip it.” It holds a special meaning for the track and field team.
“Whenever I go on the runway now, I have a whole different mindset,” thrower Matthew Morrison said. “I want to do it for him.”
“I would do anything to just have him there watching me again, so I just have this extra edge on me now,” senior Javon Smith said.
The Eagles throwers learned from the plaque’s namesake, boys track and field coach Ken Peek.
“Coach Peek is kind of the heart and soul of this team,” girls track coach Dave Chatlos said.
Unfortunately, Peek’s life has gone off track.
“He checked himself into the hospital because he was having leg spasms, but that night he was like, no, I plan on being there tomorrow. I’m going to check out early, pretty early,” Chatlos said.
Then things took a turn.
“He said I’m not going to make it. You’re going to have to do this on your own,” Chatlos said.
Peek was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer.
“Sitting there looking at a picture where they’re showing you they found a tumor on your brain, it’s very surreal, it’s very life changing and kind of left us speechless,” Peek said.
He had already decided to retire, but Peek didn’t want in to end like this.
“He was tearing up,” Smith said. “Everybody got pretty quiet, and I didn’t know how to handle it. So it was kind of like, I didn’t really know what to do except pray.”
At first, Peek didn’t know how to handle it either.
“You go down all these rabbit holes and have dark thoughts and have pity parties — and what if it’s the worse type of cancer,” Peek said.
“And finally I got to say, ‘What the heck, I don’t care if it is. It’s my battle. It’s something that’s going to be taking place, and it’s a journey that I’m going to be starting.”
With Peek looking on and following from the hospital, the Eagles went on to qualify plenty of athletes for sectionals, including Morrison, an All-American.
Peek was presented with the district trophies.
“That brought a smile to my face,” Morrison said. “I saw him that day. I went to his house, and he seemed like he was in good spirits. He found out he had a good doctor, and looks like he’ll be OK.”
Peek said he’s on medication to bring the swelling down. Surgery is coming to get the tumor out. It’s good news as he gets set for a fight.
And he’s got plenty of support for him to grip it and rip it.
“He’s seen me grow as a person, physically, emotionally, mentally,” Smith said. “So him just saying that and telling me that I motivate him to keep fighting every day really just hit.”
“There’s always going to be challenges in your life at some point,” Morrison said. “(Some are) going to be unexpected like this one, but he would never want us to have that affect our success. And so I knew how to push forward.”
Peek said he’s still afraid, but he knows he has a good group of people supporting him.
“Want to come up and crack a joke with me, punch me in the gut, I don’t care. I need that break, I need that laugh, I need to not have my head buried in my butt and kissing it good bye because I got to much living to do,” he said.