Brad Ratzlaff lowered his head, his eyes welling up with tears as he squeezed his mother’s hand. Orange and blue Hawaiian leis were placed around the necks of Ratzlaff and his family after PGA Tour player Jim Furyk announced the entire Ratzlaff clan will be heading to Hawaii in January to attend a Professional Golfer’s Association tournament.
“Knowing that you love the PGA tour, we thought you might want to attend another golf tournament on the PGA tour,” Furyk said at a Dreams Come True surprise party held at the TPC Sawgrass Clubhouse on Nov. 2. “You’re an inspiration to all of us.”
Ratzlaff, 19, a 2014 graduate of Orange Park High, is fighting acute lymphoblastic lymphoma and is an avid golfer. He will attend the tourney with his brother Tyler and parents Guy and Laura, who were on hand to watch in the dream presentation. Brad Ratzlaff was extended the offer to walk inside the ropes alongside Furyk at the pro-am event in January.
“It’s going to be unexplainable, honestly,” Ratzlaff said, who was born and raised in Orange Park. “I’m just so ready to walk some holes with him, hit the ball around and hopefully get a lot of good tips to help my golf game.”
Ratzlaff is one of 3,000 young adults with life-threatening illnesses who have had specific dreams fulfilled by the Jacksonville-based nonprofit Dreams Come True. The Players volunteer leadership team, called the Red Coats, partnered with Dreams Come True to plan and fund the trip. The 19-year-old, who fell in love with golf in the last two years, also received a new set of Callaway golf clubs and $5,000 in spending money for the vacation.
“My family really needs that,” he said.
In May 2014, only weeks shy of graduating from Orange Park High, Ratzlaff was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Although he is still undergoing chemotherapy, his lymphoma is in remission. Since his diagnosis, he has tried not to let chemotherapy interfere with his course load at Florida State College of Jacksonville or his full time job at the Cecil Aquatics Center, although treatments often left him too exhausted to drive home. Although he is back on the stand as a lifeguard, during the roughest times, he manned the front desk.
“There’s been a couple of times where his supervisor has driven all the way to Orange Park to bring him home because he couldn’t and didn’t want to call me,” said his mother Laura Ratzlaff.
Brad Ratzlaff said he is feeling much better these days.
“I have 10 more months of chemo and I’ll be fully done and hopefully headed to [the University of] Florida. Other than that, I haven’t been bad at all. I’ve been strong, I’ve been fighting, keeping my head up and that’s about it,” he said.
Dealing with cancer is not a new experience for the Ratzlaff family. Nine years ago, Ratzlaff’s father, Guy, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare form of blood cancer that causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow. After opting to participate in a clinical drug study, he had a stem cell transplant and has been in remission since 2007. His mother said her son’s determination to keep his commitments mirrored that of his father.
“Brad gets up every morning, goes to school sick and then goes to work every day and Guy did the same thing when he was going through treatment,” Laura Ratzlaff said. “It takes him a little time to get going and then out the door he goes. The only time he misses is when he has [intrathecal] chemo, which he goes under anesthesia for.”
Brad Ratzlaff said that seeing his father go through a similar experience and treatment gave him the courage to fight.
“He’s been there before and it’s good to look up to him,” Ratzlaff said about his father. “He’s more of a hero to me because he’s been there, done that.”
With two members experiencing cancer in the past decade, Laura Ratzlaff is looking forward to spending time with her family on vacation, who is on track to be healthy and free of cancer.
“To be able to go to Hawaii and spend time being a 19-year-old and not having cancer, just being Brad, is so cool,” she said.
Brad hopes to inspire other kids in similar situations.
“It’s really great knowing that other people can look up to me not just as a kid with cancer but something stronger, somebody that can raise other people’s dreams and hopes up and get them through the day,” Ratzlaff said. “I try to go through each day and try to touch somebody’s life, somehow, in some way. That’s how I try to live life every day, to try to make a difference in the world.”