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Blast star William Vanzela bonds with special fan from New Freedom, Pa.

Blast star William Vanzela bonds with special fan from New Freedom, Pa.
Liam Fanning, a 7-year-old cancer patient from New Freedom, Pa., shares a laugh and a pinky promise with Blast goalkeeper William Vanzela. (Courtesy of William Vanzela)

Blast goalie William Vanzela’s visit with 7-year-old Liam Fanning ended with a pinky promise.

The vow was for both to do exactly what their doctors say, work hard and do everything they can to get better as soon as possible.

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Fanning, a soccer-loving Blast fan from New Freedom, Pa., learned in February that he had a tumor in his leg and, after surgery, is undergoing chemotherapy. In late January, Vanzela suffered a torn adductor tendon in his groin, missed considerable playing time at the end of the regular season before returning for the playoffs to lead the Blast to their third straight Major Arena Soccer League championship. At the end of June, he had surgery and is now rehabilitating to be ready for next season.

The pinky promise reward has Fanning going to a Blast game next season as Vanzela’s guest and the two would walk out together for player introductions.

“Man, he’s special — a super-sweet kid,” Vanzela said.

“Kids at that age, it’s sometimes hard for them to understand the process about therapy and how much better you can get if you do it. So I had a promise with him that if he follows his treatment and does everything the doctor and therapist says — and I have to do the same – he’ll have that special day with me and the Blast.”

Friends of the Fanning family reached out to the Blast after learning about Liam’s cancer, requesting Vanzela send Liam a video message to provide encouragement.

Vanzela wanted to do more.

Shortly after the Blast claimed the championship this spring, he made the trek to New Freedom — just over the Maryland-Pennsylvania border in York County — to visit Liam at his home. When Vanzela was walking to the door, he saw an excited Liam peeking out the window.

They became fast friends who inspire each other.

They talked soccer — Liam has played soccer since he was 4 years old and attended plenty of Blast games, and also is a big Liverpool fan. He showed Vanzela the family’s basement where he has spent countless hours playing soccer. And Vanzela told him to stay positive and attack the work that needs to be put in to get better.

Asked what his favorite part of the visit was, Liam shyly replied: “Just seeing him.”

Liam’s mom, Cory Fanning, added: “Liam could not have been more excited knowing William was coming and William was genuinely kind and supportive and stayed for a really long time for their visit. He checks in constantly. There’s not enough words to say the difference he has made to Liam.”

Back in February, Liam was getting ready to play a soccer game when he started to limp. It persisted and he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a common form of bone cancer, in his femur. Instead of having his leg amputated, he opted to have rotationplasty surgery. The procedure removes the bottom of the femur, knee and the upper tibia, and the lower part of the leg is then rotated 180 degrees and then attached to the femur.

Now, he’s spending most of his days receiving chemotherapy treatment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“He’s handling it all like a champ and the rest of us are taking the lead from him because he’s so strong. So we know we all have to step up,” Cory said.

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The best-case scenario would have Liam completing his treatments around Thanksgiving. On Dec. 1, he turns 8, and that’s around the time the Blast will open their season, so he’s anxiously awaiting for the 2018-19 schedule to be released.

Until then, more is being done to help Liam’s cause.

A family friend, Colleen Levery, created a GoFundMe page and is organizing a bull roast and auction next month to raise money for medical costs. The LiamStrong Bull Roast is set for Aug. 11, at New Freedom Community Center. Vanzela is helping to promote the event and collecting items to be auctioned.

“Being a public person, I think I can reach a lot more people and this is what I’m trying to do, get anybody to help the family,” he said. “There’s going to be some great items for auction — getaways, restaurant [gift cards], sports memorabilia — so much cool stuff.”

Earlier in the month, Vanzela received a soccer ball signed by U.S. star goalkeeper Tim Howard that was donated by a boy from Baltimore. At first, Vanzela refused to take the ball knowing how special it is to the young boy, a goalkeeper himself who wanted to remain anonymous. But he wanted to help Liam.

“I don’t think people realize how good the world could be if we all started to be more kind,” Vanzela said. “Here’s a young kid that is a goalie and has a ball signed by the best keeper ever in the U.S. and he’s trying to help somebody else he doesn’t even know. That’s outstanding and I felt so touched by that.”

For more information on the event, go to: 501auctions.com/liamstrong.

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