(WIAT) — A local athlete is rising in the ranks as a mixed martial arts fighter, and he’s using his time in the limelight to send his love to a little boy who is fighting a tough battle of his own.
Eryk Anders has had a hard time losing; as a defensive end for the Alabama Crimson Tide, he caused the fumble that led to the Tide’s 13th national title and an undefeated season.
Anders has carried that mentality into the ring, where he remains undefeated. After an impressive win on Friday, he gave a shout out to someone that motivates even him to fight even harder.
“Support Super Sam!” Anders yelled at the end of his post-fight interview. “A little buddy of mine going through cancer right now.”
Anders was wearing a red baseball cap and a red t-shirt, bearing the cartoon likeness of a little boy superhero, known as Super Sam.
In real life, Sam Hodnett is a five-year-old comic book hero fanatic in Mountain Brook, who is battling brain cancer.
He’d undergone a particularly tough round of chemotherapy last week, and got home from the hospital just in time to see his shout-out on live national television.
“He’s out of it. He’s medicated. He’s laying down,” said Spencer Hodnett, Sam’s father. “But then when the fight came on, and he sees Eryk being interviewed in a Sam hat and a Sam shirt, he got so excited.”
The Hodnetts said they had no idea that Anders was going to mention their son.
Sam has been known as “Super Sam” since last year, following his diagnosis.
Neighbors rallied around the Hodnett family, hanging red ribbons on their mailboxes as a tribute to Sam. A local business made red Super Sam t-shirts, which are now being sold to raise money for treatment.
Anders works out at Spartan Fitness at Homewood, where Spencer Hodnett is a member.
Anders would later find out that he and Sam went to the same facility for physical therapy.
“Sam had just gotten out of surgery, maybe two weeks before. He could not walk unassisted,” said Amanda Hodnett, Sam’s mother. “Eryk saw him at his lowest.”
Super Sam’s family may think Anders saw their son at his lowest, but he saw another fighter, just as brave as himself.
“It’s unfortunate for a child that young to be going through something so serious,” Anders said. “At the same time, it kind of reveals Sam’s heart and how strong his mental fortitude is as well.”
So now the duo is fighting together, and America is joining in to keep the winning streak alive.
“We’ve been contacted from people across the country,” Amanda said. “They’re wanting shirts, they’re praying for Sam. They’re cheering him on and they send us just encouraging messages.”
“As his father, whenever I see somebody support Sam, especially as selflessly as Eryk does, it really touches me and it helps me out a lot because I don’t want people to forget Sam,” Spencer said. “It means the world. Anytime any one does something with Sam, it means the world.”
And in addition to support from the outside, Sam’s inner strength keeps everyone in his life going.
“The strength that he’s shown through this really, really tough ordeal, to me, I can’t imagine,” Spencer said. “Everything he goes through on a daily basis — I’m just so proud of him as a father”
Sam is officially cancer-free, but he’s still undergoing chemo for the next few months.
Proceeds from the t-shirts the family is selling help pay for Sam’s treatment.
You can purchase one by following this link.