October 7-8, 2017
Welcome to the 9th annual Alexis Briski Memorial Tournament.
My name is Kael Briski, Alexis' father. For many years I've written welcome letters to all of the participants in this tournament. Most of them focus on stories of Alexis, her disease, how she handled it, and her amazing attitude. Those stories are all true — I wish they weren't. At the age of 10 years, Alexis was told the words nobody wants to hear — "I'm sorry, but you have cancer."
Alexis was diagnosed in May of 2008, and she immediately started chemotherapy. All her hair fell out. She was sick much of the time. To have any hope of cure, the cancer had to be removed. That meant taking out her arm bone from the shoulder socket all the way down to her elbow and replacing it with a donor bone. This was very painful. She had lung surgery to take out the cancer from there, but there was so much in her lungs that it was not operable. She had 13 surgeries in a year.
Alexis was a softball player, and a pretty darn good one. She pitched and played the infield for the most part and played in our league from 2005 through 2008.
At the time of Alexis' diagnosis, our family consisted of my wife Kay, me, Alexis (10), Annika (7), Matthew (5), and Emily (10 months old). While I can't begin to explain the havoc that cancer can cause to a family, suffice it to say that all of our lives were turned upside down and changed forever. I'd like to focus a little bit now on my oldest daughter Annika.
As a seven and eight year old, she witnessed everything Alexis had to go through, including having her arm amputated and ultimately passing away on May 23, 2009. Annika saw it all. She visited her sister in the hospital. She supported Alexis at home. She was still the pesky little sister when Alexis was home, and became the stoic rock of our family when Alexis was in the hospital.As I said, while most of my prior letters have focused largely on Alexis, this one focuses on her sister Annika, who is a 17-year-old senior at Los Gatos High School, and a softball player as well. She will serve as co-captain of the varsity this spring.
It is easy to be a goofy seven-year-old. It is not easy to take on the role of being the big sister when your actual big sister is getting treated for, and dying of cancer, but that is exactly what Annika did. I believe that were it not for Annika's true leadership that our family might not have come through this the way it did. Today we survive and thrive as best we can.
Many parents might not say that their children are their heroes. Alexis was and is my hero, but I admire and respect Annika for her strength and leadership that she took on at a very early age. It would have been easy for her to fold, cry, ignore everything, turn to drugs and alcohol, succumb to depression, or hide in a hole or whatever you can imagine, but she did not.
At a very young age she discovered how precious life is. Annika has a strong faith, which is also her middle name, literally.
Alexis loved softball. Annika wanted to be just like her sister. At the age of six, when she could finally play the sport, Annika bought a pair of sliding pads (girls wore softball shorts back then) and was the only six-year-old sliding in to home plate every game. She had such a passion for the sport, and that has never left her. Even when Alexis passed away, Annika never let that dampen her enthusiasm for the game. It probably strengthened it more.
Annika has played softball since she was six-years-old, and at a high level since she was 10 years old. On her first year of Varsity Softball in 2017 as a junior at Los Gatos High School, she was a top contributor on her team and was named a Mercury-News Athlete of the Week in April. After the season concluded, she was selected First Team All League in the DeAnza Division of the SCVAL, Second Team All Bay Area by the Mercury News, and she was also selected to All-CCS Second Team.
With all these accolades, one might think Annika would talk to others about it, brag, etc…While she certainly is honored to receive recognition like that, I've never heard Annika boast or say anything about herself, or her accomplishments. I'd like to think that her sister Alexis helped Annika become who she is now.
That brings us back to this tournament and this sport. To me, this tournament has three important attributes. First, it is a memorial to my daughter Alexis, but more importantly, this tournament funds scholarships to high school seniors that played in our league and who are moving on to college. This past year we funded 12 $1,000.00 scholarships to graduating seniors, and I had the honor of presenting them. Very cool. Finally, the vibe at this tournament and the attitude of the girls that are playing in it is different. If you haven't been here, you'll soon see. Our community really gets behind this tournament, and it is gratifying for me to see the participation and enthusiasm of all the ball players and their parents and coaches.
While we can get wrapped up in the game, competing, winning, and so on, I'd like to remind you all what a privilege and honor it is to be able to play this sport. It has been seven years since I coached in this tournament, but I'm back. My daughter Emily is playing on our Magic Teal 10C team. I still enjoy coaching this sport and watching the girls learn, improve, and compete. My daughter Alexis' middle name is Joy, and I still get so much joy from this sport. I'll be at Blossom Hill School this weekend and will be wearing a well-worn Magic hat with a # 3 on it and a yellow ribbon for my daughter Alexis, and a purple "J" for one of her dear friends, Jensen Barrett, who lost her life to a similar cancer at the age of 13.
Please say hello if you get a chance.
Again welcome to the 9th Annual Alexis Briski Memorial Softball Tournament from the Briski Family.
Kael Briski (Alexis' Father)