Jason Rahn wants you to know one thing about kids with cerebral palsy (CP).
“People think cerebral palsy and think the worst and that it defines these kids,” Rahn said. “But it doesn’t.”
Jason’s son, Colton, is a nine-year-old living with CP.
Colton was diagnosed with CP at 14 months old in 2010. Doctors told the Rahns that Colton had a stroke either right before or after birth due to a blood clot in the left main artery going into the brain. The clot stopped before it reached the center, according to Jason, but it blocked all of the blood flow to the left side of his brain.
“The left side of his brain is dead,” Jason said.
Still undergoing therapy, Colton has made progress that his doctors did not ever expect him to make, and he has been seizure-free for three years, currently on medication. But Colton had to undergo a procedure at his hospital Tuesday morning, which included anesthesia.
“That’s what scared him,” Jason said. “Being put to sleep.”
To help calm Colton, a huge Illini fan, down, Jason used his Twitter account, which only had about 40 followers at that time, to send out a tweet to Illini Nation on Feb. 2.
“Ok fellow #Illini fans,” Jason’s tweet reads. “Need some help. My 9yo who is a HUGE #Illini fan is going for his 2nd eye procedure (from his cerebral palsy) on Tuesday and he is scared to death. Can I get some messages of support to read him? Thanks! #ColtonCourage #CPWarrior.”
Jason says he expected no more than 15 replies to his tweet, hoping to read the responses to Colton on Monday night and show him that people were behind him.
But by the time Jason sat down on Monday night at a Denny’s in the Rahns hometown of Tuscola, Illinois, about 25 miles south of Champaign, he had hundreds of tweets of support to read to his son. Some of the replies were from Illinois football players like defensive end James Crawford and quarterback Cam Thomas, incoming freshman Verdis Brown, Illinois basketball great Deon Thomas, Marching Illini Director Barry Houser, Illinois track and field head coach Mike Turk, Illini Inquirer’s Jeremy Werner and countless others. Jason even received a personal message from Illinois football head coach Lovie Smith.
No tweet meant more to Jason, however, than a quoted tweet from Illinois wide receiver Mike Dudek, a role model for Colton.
“He really connected with Mikey (Dudek) because everything Mikey went through to get back onto the field,” Jason said. “That’s how he’s had to work to live life.”
Dudek returned to the field in 2017 after missing the 2015 and 2016 seasons with knee injuries following a record-setting freshman campaign in 2014.
Besides the tweets, Colton has received physical support from Illini fans. Dan Maloney, the last Official Chief Illiniwek, sent Colton the video of the Last Dance and an autographed picture of the Last Dance at Assembly Hall.
“Colton thought that was pretty cool,” Jason said.
Even ‘cooler’ than that, though, is the effort Illinois’ football team has put in to support Colton. Lovie Smith was planning to send players to the hospital to surprise Colton following his procedure Tuesday, but the University could not get clearance to get the players off campus due to the winter storm.
Still, Jason says Smith wanted to make sure his players were able to show support for Colton in this time of need, and a group of Illini players went to Northward Elementary in Tuscola for Colton’s bitty basketball game Saturday afternoon.
#Illini viral sensation Colton Rahn surprised by @IlliniFootball players, including his role model @MDFlash_7. Amazing moment for a kid who’s been through so much. #ColtonCourage pic.twitter.com/7PjYdcW0fH— The Champaign Room (@Champaign_Room) February 10, 2018
Following the surprise by the Illinois football players, the game began.
The lane opened up and Colton missed the shot, corralling the rebound. He took another and it went in, and the 30 Illini at the game rushed the court from the bleachers, picked Colton up and paraded him around center court.
This is the first edition of a pair of articles on The Champaign Room about Colton Rahn and his relationship with Illinois sports.