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Kid Captain: Chaz Renken says he's just another 14-year-old

BY LAUREN COFFEY | SEPTEMBER 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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Dribbling up and down the court, Chaz Renken’s adrenaline is pumping. Fans begin to cheer louder and louder as he approaches the net. He reaches up to release the ball, watching as it falls in the hoop.

Most fans watching would assume the lanky 14-year-old boy is a natural athlete. That much is true — he lists football, basketball, track, and wrestling as his after-school activities. But nobody would likely guess this high-school freshman from Sioux City has been through a dozen surgeries and called the UI Children’s Hospital his home on many occasions.

“Chaz is one of the smaller kids on the team,” said Chaz’s football coach, Jerry Keift. “But he just gives it his all, all the time. He’s excited to play and just excited about life.”

Chaz was born with a facial cleft, which is similar to a cleft lip or palette. When he was 6 months old, he had to have surgery to close a gap spreading from the left side corner of his mouth to his left ear. Soon after he had difficulty breathing, so he had a trachea inserted.

“When he was just a baby, he would reach up and put his fingers in it, then blow out air of his mouth so it made a sound,” mother Candy Renken said. “It wasn’t talking or anything, but it was still sound. When he was about 4, he got the OK to get the trachea removed, and hearing his voice is still one of the happiest days of my life.”

Though most people do not have to take two hands to count how many surgeries they’ve had, Chaz still sees himself as any other teenage boy.

“I have a littler trachea [than other people], so I get tired easier, but that doesn’t matter,” he said. “I tell people it’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what on the inside that matters.”

Renken decided to enter her son into a contest put on by the Children’s Hospital and the Hawkeyes to choose a “Kid Captain,” in which a former or current patient of the hospital is able to be the honorary captain for a Hawkeye football game.

Chaz was one of the 13 children chosen out of 403 applicants. He will be the captain for this Saturday’s game against Iowa State.

“I nominated him because he’s such an inspiration to so many people,” Renken said. “He doesn’t accept no, he doesn’t accept limitations. I always say we don’t see him with a disability, we see all the abilities he’s blessed with.”

Chaz says he does not see himself as a role model, except for his four younger siblings. But he does have some advice to other children with disabilities.

“No matter what’s on the outside, it doesn’t matter, what’s important is on the inside,” he said. “You just have to believe in God, and He’ll make a path for you.”

Renken admits that although she was initially shocked by Chaz’s health, her family’s faith has grown stronger because of it.

“In the beginning, it wasn’t what we expected; we were expecting to give birth to a healthy baby,” she said. “But I would say we were absolutely blessed. Chaz was born the way he was for a reason, God doesn’t make mistakes. God entrusted this child to me, He had enough faith that I could handle this. He knew Chaz could handle it.”

Although Chaz has been through some tribulations, he says he is happy with where he is now.

“When people ask what’s wrong with me, I just tell them I was born like this. I tell them that what if they were like this, how would they feel [to get teased],” he said. “Now, I don’t really care what new people say; whatever they say, I’ll get over it. I have my friends.”

Chaz is excited about the game on Saturday, as well as the future. He will have his final reconstructive surgery in about a year or two.

“That’s going to feel really good, because then I won’t have to have surgeries anymore,” he said. “Unless I do something stupid and hurt myself or something. But no one will care [after the final surgery]. They’ll just treat me like they always have.”


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