How Carson Fox refused to let cancer derail his football dream
Bending over and grabbing the soccer ball’s laces, he does a unique lunge before snapping the ball between his legs.
Los Alamitos’ Carson Fox runs with a prosthetic left leg that extends above the knee. It can’t flex and lock efficiently – a problem since that’s how snappers generate force to wander the ball. There is no manual for this. He only had to play around with a soccer ball in the backyard to find out.
For example, on Friday night’s Short Snapper, the junior puts his prosthesis straight and at an angle for one of the best teams in the southern section. He places his left heel on the ground, points his toes skyward, and supports most of his weight on his right leg. As he kicks the ball, his right leg locks.
And the snaps, said coach Ray Fenton, are impeccable.
“The position that he gets in to grab the ball, I can’t do that,” Fenton said. “But he has such determination and determination that he’s going to make it work.”
Fox won’t say he’s anything special. He won’t say he’s an inspiration. He hasn’t made that climb to make a statement. He just wanted to get back to something familiar.
But players come up to him during games to congratulate him on his recovery. Los Alamitos grandstands chanted his name. He has told his mother Shannon he doesn’t want any of this, he doesn’t want to feel appreciated.
“There’s always that one kid in the hospital bed going through the same thing as you, and you inspire them,” Shannon said.
Because 18 months ago this boy was Carson, who cried out in pain at the slightest movement. 18 months ago he was faced with a choice: life or his leg.
But what was life without his leg?
A broken ankle may have saved him.
In the spring of 2021, when he was 15, Fox was living a happy life, preparing for baseball, coaching soccer, hanging out with friends, and surfing.
“I was just at a really good point,” Carson said. “And then it all went down and it just flipped.”
After a defenseman landed on Carson’s left leg in a spring football game his freshman year, he slumped on his crutches a few days later at The Athlete’s Advantage, a Garden Grove Carson chiropractic office he was visiting.
“What’s wrong with you?” asked dr Roni Negro, a chiropractor at the clinic. “You look terrible.”
He was known for bright eyes, glittering golden hair, his full-throttle attitude. He was the kid who drove his mom crazy, stayed out long after sundown practicing ollies on his skateboard, and didn’t go to bed until his board was spinning just right.
But when I entered the clinic, the child was gone. The eyes were sunken. The hair fell. And it wasn’t just the break.
When she touched his leg it was “[lit] set it up like a Christmas tree,” Negro recalled.
Carson’s hamstring had started to hurt since the last fall. The family thought it was just a pulled muscle. But an initial scan of his ankle revealed otherwise. Later, an MRI scan showed a tumor behind his left knee. The pain worsened when a biopsy confirmed the tumor was cancerous in March 2021. It was telangiectatic osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer so rare that it accounts for less than 4% of all osteosarcoma cases, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“I was just thinking about the next step. For example, how will I be able to walk again? How do I get back to soccer? How do I get back to everyday life?”
– Carson Fox
How did it all happen so quickly?
“I saw cancer as something terrible,” Fox said, “but something that wouldn’t happen to me, you know?”
Two rounds of chemotherapy didn’t slow growth, and the tumor began to press against his leg structure, the agony unbearable. A surgeon told the family it was time for action. The fear set in over Memorial Day weekend when his father, JD, wheeled him down the hallway of Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach to the operating room.
Hours later, Carson woke up to a tangle of wires and, in a haze of anesthesia, at first not remembering why he was there. Until he looked down.
His left leg was amputated below the knee.
“I don’t want to see it,” JD recalled his son saying. “I don’t want to see it.”
News of Carson’s plight spread through Los Alamitos. JD was a local firefighter and Shannon a nurse raising boys who were the mainstay of local youth sports.
“It hit everyone hard,” said Ken Fox, Carson’s uncle. “Because they knew the family. They felt attached to the family.”
Parishioners said public prayers at St. Hedwig’s Catholic Church. Cassandra Palacios, the Los Alamitos school nurse, saw people she’d never met before at the grocery store wearing “Fox Fortitude” t-shirts and bracelets, courtesy of a slogan designed by Ken Fox.
Shannon’s staff at the hospital, Ken said, donated her sick days so she could stay home and care for Carson. Kean, Carson’s cousin, went inside to a huge basket of gift cards.
Carson loved the support but hated the attention. He didn’t want to be “the kid with cancer,” Shannon said.
After the amputation, he was able to lift weights again between rounds of chemotherapy in August. Before going for treatment, JD said Carson would exercise for three hours, demoralized that he had lost so much muscle mass.
“I was just thinking about the next step,” Carson said. “For example, how am I supposed to walk again? How do I get back to soccer? How do I get back to everyday life?”
The first step was a prosthesis. And the first time he was fitted in the hospital, it was uncomfortable. There was a strange weight at the end of his leg. Sport, let alone football, seemed unimaginable.
“That’s a distance,” he thought.
“I think he’s starting to realize how unique he is because he’s been through all of that and now he’s out here starting varsity football.”
— CJ Berthon, friend and Fox teammate
But slowly he went from crutches to timid steps with a walker to a cane. In September 2021, he moved alone, sticking out his tongue and pursing his lips in triumphant concentration. It was the same face he made on a wakeboard a few months later as he shredded the surf on a trip to the Colorado River, an artificial foot on the end of his prosthetic leg for balance.
“Carson is so stubborn and so athletic that anyone telling him how to do something bothers him,” Shannon said. “Because he thinks he knows better, he knows more, he could do it faster on his own. So he blew through all the physical therapy.”
And in November, he strolled into Miller Children’s without crutches, the nurses cheering as he rang a bell on the wall – signaling the end of his chemotherapy.
“Because he’s a very good patient, because he’s a very good patient, because he’s a very good patient, no one can deny it!” the staff chanted.
This chapter was closed.
Carson looked stunned when Los Alamitos track and field coach Nathan Howard first asked him to come for the team in the winter, the coach recalled.
Him? Come out to run… running track? with, well, This?
When Howard asked the third time, Carson agreed to come to practice, run and throw alongside the team. But he didn’t tell his parents until the day before the first meeting that he’d even made the team. He didn’t want them to know how JD said he was going to lose.
At several meetings throughout the year, he huffed and puffed down the course and set a personal record – only to find Howard disappointed. He was hit.
“The kid has a faster PR than you by far,” Howard told him.
But… he was beaten.
“It was hard to get over that,” Carson said. “Understand that no matter how much I work, they will probably be faster than me.”
Immediately after chemotherapy, he came to a football game to watch his older brother Jackson play. The home stands, Los Alamitos, who gathered, began chanting Carson’s name. But he looked down in embarrassment, Shannon recalled.
Even when he recovered, he still didn’t want to attract attention. And in athletics, he insisted on participating in adaptive competitions — he didn’t just want a participation trophy for running with able-bodied people.
“He says, ‘What am I? [special] for, breathe? Cross the finish line? That’s stupid,'” Shannon said. “‘If they’re going to call me great, it has to be for competing and winning.'”
After riding the track for a few months, he won a state shot put championship last May and finished third in the 100-meter and 200-meter events. As he lined up on the blocks at that meeting, he glanced out at the crowd for a moment and saw his family watching over him from the stands. He remembered the day a year ago when they were guarding his hospital bed.
And little by little, Carson began to accept some of the attention.
“I think he’s starting to realize how unique he is because he went through all of that and now he’s out here getting into college football,” said teammate and friend CJ Berthon.
A few months after his amputation, Carson began reaching out to other para-athletes through social media — most notably Paralympic snowboarder Noah Elliott and Paralympic track and field athlete Ezra Frech. Elliott gave him a wide range of information about prosthetics over the phone and he trained with Frech for a day.
“It’s totally inspired me because they’ve helped me so much, and I want to give back to people who are going through what I’ve been through,” Carson said.
Still on the go day-to-day while settling into the football season, he’s gearing up for a Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal playoff quarterfinal playoff on Nov. 11 against Long Beach Poly. The eyes on his leg still make him uncomfortable at times. But when asked after a game in September if he wrapped his prosthetic leg out of embarrassment, he shook his head.
“I want everyone to see it,” he said.
https://www.latimes.com/sports/highschool/story/2022-11-11/carson-fox-los-alamitos-cancer-prosthetic-leg-football How Carson Fox refused to let cancer derail his football dream