Dreaming big for a super trip to Big D | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Dreaming big for a super trip to Big D

Posted: January 31, 2011 - 9:47pm
Justin Banks (upper right) is going to the Super Bowl in Dallas with his family via the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His mother, Tracy (lower left), step brother Zack, brother Austin, dad Travis, step brother Nick, and sister Caitlin are all going, too.  Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls
Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls
Justin Banks (upper right) is going to the Super Bowl in Dallas with his family via the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His mother, Tracy (lower left), step brother Zack, brother Austin, dad Travis, step brother Nick, and sister Caitlin are all going, too.

BAXTER - Asked for one big wish, Justin Banks, a bright boy with a ready smile, knew what he'd pick.

And this Sunday, his wish is coming true.

After battling cancer into remission, the 12-year-old is going to the Super Bowl in Dallas and taking his family with him.

"I never thought it would happen," Justin said at his home in Baxter Monday night.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation dubs it "Big Wishes in Big D." For some three decades, the foundation has been part of making wishes come true for children with life-threatening conditions. On Sunday, Justin will take a seat in Cowboy Stadium for Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Dallas.

He'll be wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers Troy Polamalu jersey and cheering against the disliked Pack. After all, he is really a Vikings fan. While he'd no doubt rather watch his favorite player, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, just getting to football's biggest stage is a welcome no matter who is playing.

"I love watching it and playing it and everything about it," Justin said of football.

Justin was diagnosed June 26, 2009, with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Justin still has monthly chemotherapy treatments, which will continue through October 2012, but his cancer is in remission and he's doing well.

When he picked the Super Bowl, the Make-A-Wish Foundation said that wish could be one or two years away, but Justin stuck it out and waited. Now it's hard for the family to believe they'll be traveling from their hotel in the Twin Cities by limo to the airport on Thursday and be watching the big game in 60-degree weather.

They've known the wish was granted for some time, but thought they were limited to Justin and one other family member. Justin picked his dad and fellow football enthusiast Travis. When Justin learned there may be one or two more tickets, he didn't want to think about picking between his siblings.

Justin's wish, one of 13 to see the Super Bowl, is granted through a partnership of the NFL, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Chevrolet. The wish makes it possible for each child and one family member to go to the game. In addition, Chevrolet, with the NFL's help, donated 30 game tickets so each child may have other immediate family members with them for the big game.

Justin's friends were excited for him.

"They think it's unbelievable, too," Justin said. "It's so awesome. They keep calling me lucky. I am lucky."

That's from a boy diagnosed with cancer who suffered through the illness and the treatments. He lost his hair. He was sick from chemotherapy. He missed school for almost an entire year, studying at home, missing his friends. He still has painful steroid injections that affect his back and legs for about five days. His parents say lucky isn't quite the right word. But, they said, the wish is coming to a youngster who deserves it.

When his church provided Justin with a check for $250, he thought it was too much after the church had already done so much for him. He could have purchased new electronics or the latest video game. Instead Justin asked if there may be another family who would need the money more. The church found a family. Justin hand-delivered the money to them.

"I thought that was a very great thought for a 12-year-old," his dad said.

Throughout his ordeal, Justin has been strong and is not one to complain, his mom and dad said.

"I learned I can stay positive through something like this," Justin said. "That really helps to get through it."

His mom said: "He's made us a lot stronger, too."

Justin said he'd like to be a professional football or baseball player. His mom, Tracy, and dad, Travis, think their son, who excels in math and science, may be a doctor.

On Thursday Justin plans to arrive in Texas with his family for a weekend of activities. There's a tour of Cowboy Stadium, going to the NFL Experience interactive theme park at the Dallas Convention Center and at trip to the Dallas World Aquarium.

Travis Banks said he was told Justin's wish is the second Super Bowl wish from Minnesota. Since it was founded in 1982, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota has granted more than 3,000 wishes to children across the state with life-threatening medical conditions.

For more information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Minnesota, go online to wishmn.org or call (612) 767-WISH (9474). The relationship with the NFL for the Super Bowl wishes began about 30 years ago.

Justin said he wanted to thank the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Microsoft, which hosted a pre-Super Bowl party at the Mall of America and provided him with an Xbox game console and games.

But the biggest thing he is looking forward to from the action packed trip is the game itself. And seeing it from the stadium seats in Texas will be a little different than the annual Super Bowl party. The only thing the family will miss is the commercials.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5852.