BUTTE — A little over a year ago, Charlo native and Montana Tech safety Isaiah Allik was in a dark place.
After months of enduring severe knee pain, a tumor was discovered in his right leg. Shortly after, it was diagnosed as an incredibly rare form of soft tissue cancer called Pseudomyogenic Hemangioendothelioma.
His health, athletic career and future were suddenly in limbo.
"I got really depressed," Allik said. "I was in a really dark time in my life."
But then he began undergoing surgeries to remove the malignant mass that Allik said was about the size and shape of a slightly compressed tennis ball. A path to recovery — and a road back to football — was beginning to emerge.
And, in a towering reminder to Allik that he wasn't alone, a GoFundMe page setup for his treatment received a staggering amount of support — much of that assistance coming from people he'd never even met.
"It was kind of overwhelming," Allik said. "Some of the people I'd never heard of. They didn't know me but they wanted to help out."
From complete strangers, to his family, to his Charlo community, to his team at Montana Tech, Allik had plenty of people in his corner.
And after four operations, the tumor is now completely removed — the resulting scar serving as a reminder of the long fight to rid his body of cancer. Allik is undergoing physical therapy to strengthen his right leg. He's rejoined his team, and can participate in workouts though he hasn't been able to suit up during spring ball.
He anticipates that at some point in the next few months his doctors will clear him to fully return to football, in time for the Orediggers fall camp.
So damn proud of this young man! A year ago @isaiahallik44 was diagnosed with cancer. Today he was maxing with our team! 7 reps on the Pro bench is pretty amazing after all he has been through! Love u Isaiah! He is the model of mental & physical toughness! #Family#IsaiahStrong pic.twitter.com/dLnNRGhsQf— Kyle Samson (@CoachKyleSamson) March 8, 2022
His odyssey was a harrowing and uncertain one, but he's emerged from it with a wise-beyond-his-years perspective — to truly appreciate the people you love, to cherish every day, and to realize that nothing is ever guaranteed.
"As time went on and things started to get better it really made me appreciate the little things," he said. "Made me appreciate the time I have and not take any of it for granted."
"Just having him around has been a positive thing for our team," said Tech head football coach Kyle Samson. "We can't wait to get him back with us in the fall."
His battle against cancer also taught him the invaluable impact of belief and a positive attitude.
"One thing I realized is it's all about your mindset," he said. "Your mind is a very valuable thing, I think more than we realize. That strong mindset along with people you love behind you to support you, it goes a long ways, I think more than people realize."
If everything goes according to plan, Allik will suit up and charge onto Bob Green Field this fall. And that sight will serve as an important reminder to all of us — that belief and determination are powerful forces.