For 42 years, Sam Barham has been coaching cross country, basketball and track across the southeast.
"That’s what makes me get up and go to work in the morning. I have such great kids to coach," Barham said.
He has been trying to build Parkview Baptist cross country into an elite program at the Class 3A level for the last seven years. This year was shaping up to be his best chance yet to win his first state championship.
His girls' team figured to be a serious contender and the boys were young but looked capable of reaching a new program high finish at the state meet.
However, after practice on October 20 with the big race only three weeks away, he received word from his doctors that he had acute myeloid leukemia.
The following day, he started chemotherapy and treatment. Doctors ran a follow-up blood test on him two weeks later. On Tuesday, Nov. 8, he found out he was cancer free.
"It was a miracle and just shows the power of prayer," said assistant coach Meagan Faulk. "It’s just an amazing thing that he’s able to walk through and this is the real victory — that he’s okay."
With such a quick turnaround in his health, Barham continued to push himself to make it to the state championship with his team. However, he needed to spend six weeks in the hospital recovering from side effects and rebuilding his immune system.
"The timing of all this happening at the end of the season was not a good thing for sure," Barham said.
The team left on Monday with a typical Parkview sendoff. Students and faculty filled the street behind the school with signs and shakers, hoping the Eagles could win a state championship.
Once on the bus, Faulk used Facetime to reach out to Barham so he could speak to his team before they left.
"Go out tomorrow and finish the job and be among the elite championship teams," Barham told them.
On Tuesday, with their coach again on Facetime, the runners aimed to make their coach proud. The girls’ team had three runners finish in the top 10 but ultimately finished in third place as a team. The boys finished in seventh.
It was a disappointing result, but Barham was proud of his team for what they accomplished and had nothing but praise for them when they visited the hospital on Wednesday.
"I really appreciate y'all coming up here and doing this," Barham said. "I wanted to commend y'all for how well you handled everything. Y'all gave it everything you had at the state meet yesterday. I know we didn't end up winning the state championship like we really wanted to. I know without a doubt in my mind that everybody gave 100 percent effort and that's all a coach can ask for.
"I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for running so hard for me. It was a joy to get to watch y'all. I've never felt so loved and supported by so many people. I'm really overwhelmed by it. That has kept me from being depressed. Every day just getting something from somebody that just lifts me up and encourages me. I love y'all. Y'all mean the world to me."
Barham hopes to be released from the hospital over the weekend and back to his usual work schedule after the school’s Christmas break.
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