PALMER — When playing soccer as a defenseman for the Valley revolution, 11-year-old Vyrl Bowen is described as a tenacious defender. In June, Vyrl was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor and is currently in Seattle receiving proton radiation treatment to fight the rare disease. While Vyrl is in Seattle, hundreds of members of the community gathered at Active Soles to raise money and Run for Vyrl.
“He’s tenacious and he will absolutely bring that same attitude to fighting this disease,” said Kurt Simeck. “Even when he was sick he would come out there and play for half of the game.”
Simeck ran the 5k with his wife Terri and two dogs as they wore orange shirts with Vyrl’s name on it. In June, Vyrl complained of a headache that persisted for days. Brandt and Stephanie Bowen, Vyrl’s parents, took Vyrl to a family physician where they got a CT scan just to be safe. The Bowen’s received news just 20 minutes after returning home from the doctor and acted quickly. Vyrl had a four centimeter tumor called an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor in the back of his head. The Bowens went to Providence Hospital in Anchorage to receive immediate treatment and Vyrl had the tumor removed in a nine-hour surgery. Brandt and Stephanie are with Vyrl in Seattle as he receives proton radiation treatment for the next six weeks. The Bowen’s three other children are with extended family, and since the diagnosis, have been helped by the community around them.
“We have probably the most amazing community that there is in the world,” said Brandt Bowen. “The community has been absolutely amazing; the Wasilla and Palmer area really has just done everything they can to make our challenge as easy and as light as possible.”
Rachel Gernat helped organize the run. She contacted Anne Thomas at Active Soles immediately who jumped at the idea of raising money for Vyrl’s treatment with the Happy Run on Monday. While the Happy Run often causes slight delays in traffic while a few dozen runners patrol the trails of Palmer, Monday’s mass of runners caused a full on traffic jam in downtown Palmer. Thomas said on the loudspeaker before the run that over 400 people signed up to run. Members of the Birch Tree Charter School family where Vyrl is a student and Brandt is the principal, the Valley Revolution Soccer team and runners far and wide made the effort to run for Vyrl.
“I thought that we should do it because it’s somebody that we’ve seen grow up,” said Brandi Cooley, who works at Birch Tree.
The event raised over $1,800 to help pay for Vyrl’s medical expenses. After his six weeks of radiation in Seattle and a four-week break, Vyrl will face the greatest challenge of his young life in six weeks of chemotherapy at home in Alaska. Since traveling to Seattle, Vyrl has not been isolated from the community that loves him. Every day he receives dozens of letters, all to the amazement of his father who thought that old fashioned mail might be a thing of the past. Not the case, as Vyrl received 32 pieces of mail on Monday. On Tuesday, Vyrl attended the Seattle Seahawks training camp. While dealing with the rare ATRT that is usually found in children between the ages of one and three, Vyrl has kept his spirits up and held a positive attitude through the treatment.
“Trials and tribulations can be really hard but they can also be something that bring you together,” said Brandt Bowen.
When on the soccer field, Vyrl plays defense. Brandt says that he is not boisterous or cocky, and celebrates softly as he sets up forwards for goals. Vyrl missed playing soccer with the Valley Revolution in Oregon last weekend, where the promising young team took second place. Brandt says that rather than be in Seattle, Vyrl would like to be running with his friends or on the soccer field with his teammates and younger brother, Jason.
“Between the two of them, when they play together it’s pretty dynamic,” said Brandt Bowen. “I think a lot of times he’s at his happiest when he can feed the ball to scorers. He does a lot of assists and he is the type that he’s super humble.”
The Valley community has rallied around Vyrl to provide their own assist in letting him know he is not fighting his battle alone.
“We all come together when someone in need and rn they’re in need and that’s why we’re all here,” said Simeck. “Whether it’s the community, the school, the soccer association, he’s touched all our lives and we want to help out any way we can.”