(USA Today Sports Images)
Gene Chizik might not be a college football coach anymore – at least not at the moment – but he’s having a tough time staying out of the spotlight.
That’s because around Thanksgiving, Chizik gave a young woman, who had been battling brain cancer, a car to celebrate her braving a six-year battle with a tumor.
Bayleigh Phillips, 15, first met Chizik at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet in 2010 and then a couple months later at the Greater Birmingham Auburn Club. The then-13-year-old was surprised Chizik remembered her when she asked him to sign something and their families quickly became friends. At the time, Phillips had gone through 70 weeks of chemotherapy to remove a tumor in her brain only to learn that the tumor had grown and she’d need more treatment.
The Chiziks, including Gene’s wife Jonna and their children, were familiar with Phillips’ story and kept tabs on her throughout the process. They called on her birthday and invited Phillips and her family to several events – some having to do with Auburn and some related to the church.
In November 2010, Phillips learned the chemotherapy was not working and she’s had to undergo radiation. She's still battling the tumor.
But things are looking a little brighter for the teenager, who's been taking driver's ed classes and just wants to be a normal teen.
When Chizik told Phillips of her present – a 2006 Scion XB, which she named Foxy Box – she said she couldn't control her emotions.
“He said, ‘You know, me and Mrs. Jonna have known you for a long time, and you are such a responsible young lady and such an inspiration to us, we wanted to tell you that we got you a car,’” Phillips said. “I just cried and cried. I could not believe it.”
Recently, Phillips hasn’t been able to go to school because of a low blood count and sickness, but she still was able to get into the car with her family to pick up her new ride.
Phillips said she was so touched by the Chizik’s kindness and that she planned to do whatever she could to make a difference in her community even through her illness.
“I have always tried to give back to the organizations and foundations that have helped my family on this journey, as well as to the families that have a child with cancer and to any church or youth group that has asked me to speak,” Phillips said.
“I don’t know why I was chosen for this journey. But I will never pass on the opportunity to share with others what God has done in my life in the midst of the storm. This may seem cliché, but life is what you make it.”
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