Blake Level, Living Life Wide Open
In 1993, at around thirteen years old, I was just starting my freshman year of high-school. It was Thanksgiving day and my brothers and I were horsing around like all brothers do. My youngest brother, who was about two at the time, was wrestling around with us and he took a shot at me and began to run away. Well, I wasn’t gonna let that happen so as he ran I swiped his ankle with my hand and tripped him up. He hit the ground and began to ball his eyes out and I of course was instantly in trouble for being too rough with him. I knew I had barely touched him, what none of us knew was that incident would change everything.
What resulted from that playful incident was a broken leg on my little brother. I felt terrible as you could imagine, but I couldn’t believe that what I had done was enough to break his leg. I mean, I knew I was strong as hell (haha) but I also knew I wasn’t that rough. It was soon discovered that my little brother actually had much worse than just a broken leg. He was diagnosed with Leukemia. The cancer had weakened the bone which is why it had broken so easily. The doctor made the comment that the broken leg was actually a blessing as it was what allowed them to catch it when they did. To this day, I still remember how it felt to hear that news.
It was a crazy couple of years after that. My brother went through horrible cancer treatments. Chemotherapy caused him to balloon in weight and lose all of his hair. My friends and I all got together one day and shaved our heads bald with him to show that it was ok, we all tried to do whatever we could to make him know we loved him and that we were there with him. I’m not sure he could really understand the gravity of what he was dealing with as he was only a toddler. Looking back, I don’t think I even understood the severity of it.
As my brother began to recover he along with our family was presented with an opportunity by the Make-A-Wish (MAW) foundation. The organization is known for their unwavering commitment to making young boys & girls suffering from life threatening illnesses, dreams come true. They allow the patient to “Make-A-Wish” and then do all they can to make that wish come true. It is such a cool thing and it was my brother’s wish to go to Disneyland, even though we had done that many times before and despite my best efforts to convince him that meeting Michael Jordan would be way more cool! MAW not only granted his wish, they one-upped it by sending our entire family on all expenses paid trip to Disney World in addition to a week long cruise to the Bahamas on the Disney Boat. Never once did it ever cross my mind that I may be part of granting someone else’s wish one day.
Fast forward what seems to be a lifetime since then and my younger brother is a healthy adult with his own kids. He beat the cancer that put so much strain on him and my family all those years. I of course have gone on to live out my own dreams of having a business and a healthy and growing family of my own that I love dearly. Having kids of my own, I now know how much it hurts the heart to see your own children in pain. I could only imagine what it must be like for parents to suffer along with their children through cancer.
Paying It Forward
In the fall of 2016, RJ Anderson and I were contacted for a conference call to discuss an opportunity. It was quickly realized that the contact was with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and my mind began to run wild. A lady by the name of Chelsea Randall introduced herself as the Sports Relation Manager of Make-A-Wish and told us she had something she wanted to ask us to be a part of. She explained that a young boy who was battling cancer had made a wish to “….burn rubber with RJ & Joey D….” Now, I am not sure how RJ felt when he heard those words come across the phone line, and I am not sure words could even describe exactly how I felt, but before she could even finish her pitch RJ and I were telling her we are all-in!
She explained that the boy was 8 year old Blake Level from Oregon. RJ and I actually knew who Blake was, his dad Kenny had reached out when Blake was going through some of his worst treatments. He had told us via Instagram that his son was a huge fan of RJ’s and while trapped indoors during treatments he would pass time watching XP1K and other UTVUnderground videos. RJ and I both sent them care packages and kept tabs on Blake through social media. We already had a connection with Blake because of this, we knew immediately we were going to not only grant his wish but go all-out in the process. A plan was put in place and MAW made it clear that whatever we needed on their end to make it happen that they too were all-in with us.
Blake suffers from a type of cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma or RMS. He has a type that usually affects patients within the first 5 years of life and his RMS had attacked an area around his sinuses and below his eye. Now, I am not a doctor so don’t hold my vague descriptions against me, but Blake’s cancer had eaten at his sinus’ and was working its way up into his brain and had began to actually work its way into the back of one of his eyes. Harsh chemotherapy treatments and surgeries would result, and like many with cancer would not just affect his health but he and his family’s way of living. The cancer forced Blake indoors through much of his treatment. His parents had to put him into homeschooling as he was too ill to attend public school anymore.
Blake was forced to give up simple things that we all take for granted as young children such as playing outside with friends. The sounds of laughter outside his home from his neighborhood friends began to wear on him and depress him. Blake would shut down and his emotions were a constant roller coaster. Kenny and Jalynn (Blake’s parents) made the decision to move out of the city to an area where Blake would have less distractions and stay focused on getting healthy and do more of the things he did love and could still do.
Blake’s dad Kenny is a gearhead and also love their Polaris RZRs. They ride the Florence dunes often and part of moving to the country meant they could build their own dirt track for the family to play on. Blake started on quads, moved into a RZR 170 and now at age 8 drives a RZR 570. Blake loved RJ’s XP1K2 video so much that he asked his dad to build some of the stunts so that’s exactly what they did. Kenny explained that the one thing that would make Blake feel “normal” would be when he could drive, Blake craves getting behind the wheel of his RZR. When doctors would let them leave the hospital between treatments, no matter how sick Blake felt, they would load up and head to the dunes. Blake at his weakest would still muster the strength to climb into his RZR and drive and for those moments he was as happy as one could be.
While the family awaited to find out if Blake’s wish was granted, RJ and I were in full swing with planning on how we were going to deliver. Anyone who knows us know that we go big and opportunities like this are what people in our position live for. I have learned through other opportunities of goodwill that giving is so much greater than receiving, and giving to those who truly need or deserve it provide the greatest rewards life can offer. The thought of making this boy’s day was fueling our excitement.
Knowing the family loved the dunes we knew immediately we wanted to bring them to Glamis. The plan was made for Make-A-Wish to bring the Level’s to Southern California and then surprise them with a trip to Glamis with not just RJ and I, but with our own friends and families. We set out to give Blake the best weekend of riding that we could but we knew that to really push him over the top we had to get him behind the wheel of a machine. So together, RJ and I reached out to our friends at Polaris and worked to obtain a brand new 2017 Polaris RZR 570! We were going to blow him away with the ultimate surprise.
Our plan was to surprise Blake with his very own custom built 570 without him or anyone in his family knowing. We got the new 570 and started reaching out to our friends in the industry to help us transform it into a true custom machine that anyone would expect from UTVUnderground.com & RJ Anderson.
While RJ rounded up wheels & tires from Fullerton Sand Sports, and lined up shocks from Walker Evans Racing, I worked on seats & lights from Pro-Armor, whips from Whip-Tech and some other little accessories. When our friend Aaron Quintero caught wind of what we were doing he immediately wanted to take part in helping. The Quintero’s have some of the biggest hearts of anyone I know and before I knew it Aaron’s brother Carlos and father-in-law Dave Ripka were committed to making sure Blake’s RZR had a cool custom cage to protect him! Dave lined up materials and Carlos along with our friends at American Powdercoat got to work on building a sick custom cage with doors and roof and had it all powdercoated. They went one step further and installed all the parts and wired everything up perfectly. All Star Signs laced the machine up with a custom set of graphics in Blake’s favorite color green!
With a custom RZR 570 built out and the family on their way to Southern California we got ready to head to Glamis to surprise Blake and his family. Attitude Toy Haulers jumped in wanting to join in on the fun. Attitude would set the Level’s up with a custom Monster Energy edition trailer to call their own for the weekend. We arrived in Glamis on Thursday afternoon and got set up. We had a huge camp as our goal was to give the Level’s the full Glamis experience. Joining the group was Polaris RZR athlete and recent Mint 400 winner Mitch Guthrie Jr., the entire team from Attitude RV, Frankie Barutti, the owner of Giant RV made the trip out as did our good friend Danny G. of VANS who also brought a bunch of goodies for Blake and his little sister. The Quintero’s and Dave Ripka made the trip as well along with Jeremy Merrell of the UTV Wolfpack. Before we knew it we had a massive camp with over 15 RZRs ready to ride. Dave with Fullerton Sand Sports would also come hang out and he brought along NHRA star Clay Millican. We were all set and anxious for their arrival.
#LevelLife In The Dunes
The Level’s pulled into Glamis at 10am. RJ and I greeted the family at the Glamis Beach Store in my Fat-Rod RZR, a machine Blake knew all about! You could see his smile beaming from the backseat of their vehicle as they pulled in. RJ and I put Blake and his sister in the backseat of the RZR and guided him into camp in style! There the family was met by everyone and it was at this point that you really began to feel the gravity of what we were about to do. We exchanged hugs, handshakes and names. We showed Blake around his Attitude trailer and introduced him to my boys Enzo & Baby C who he of course already knew from our Instagram.
While we talked about the dunes and gave the family the basic rundown on Glamis and who everyone was and shared just how excited we were to have them you could see Blake’s curiosity guide him towards the RZRs. We showed him RJ’s RZR and he saw all the other cool machines that were on hand. But there was one machine that was covered up and I could tell that’s what he was really curious about. RJ and I asked him if he wanted to see what he would be driving for the weekend and his eyes lit up as he promptly answered “YES!”
As he helped us uncover the RZR you could feel his excitement. Words can’t describe the joy we felt and the happiness that flowed from his expressions. As he climbed into the seat for the first time we all smiled and laughed. You could tell just how excited he was and just how grateful his family was. As we walked them around the vehicle to show all that was done, our friend Mike Emerson of Troy Lee Designs presented Blake with his own custom TLD riding gear and Jeremy Merrell of the UTV Wolfpack handed Blake his very own custom painted helmet that GRID Off-Road commissioned for him. He fired that RZR up and pulled it into the sun for the first time.
After taking pictures and giving everyone a moment to look at the new RZR we let Blake loose to play with his new machine around camp. He blasted off and it wasn’t long before he found a jump and was putting his new RZR to work. It was at this moment that RJ and I told Kenny that the kid could drive!! We couldn’t believe the car control he had, no joke, he has talent!
We would spend the rest of the weekend bonding with the Level’s and sharing our love of the dunes together. We rode all over Glamis with Blake behind the wheel of his new machine with RZR & RedBull athlete Seth Quintero riding shotgun! We shared campfires and watched the kids play together and just enjoy being kids. It was an amazing time and it was so much more than just surprising a little boy with a new RZR, it was about using what influence we might have to show him that no matter the challenges in life, if you stay the course good things will and do happen.
Blake could have wished for anything from Make-A-Wish but he chose to spend it hanging out with a couple of guys who have found a way to do what they love for a living. He looks at RJ as a star, he probably looks at me as a guy who never misses a meal, but one things for sure we look at him as our hero. He may not ever know this, but we got the greatest reward from this experience. The Level’s went home with some great memories and stories to tell, we went home with a new outlook on life.
On behalf of RJ and I we want to thank Blake for giving us this opportunity. We want to thank the Level’s for coming down and sharing this experience with us and for truly inspiring us. Blake and his family still have a long road ahead of them in Blake’s recovery. While he is winning the battle right now it is still unclear if the cancer will return or not. Because of this we keep them all in our thoughts. But for now we celebrate our new friends.
It brings me back to my opening story on my own experience with cancer and the Make-A-Wish foundation. Its funny how things work out. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be part of making another little boys dream come true. It seems time and time again things happen in my life that continue to make me wonder just how I got so lucky. This opportunity and experience means more to me than any cool build or any epic trip. This is truly what life is about.
I’m excited to say that The Level’s are making the trip to Laughlin for the 2017 UTV World Championship where Blake will co-drive with my youngest boy Cristian AKA Baby C in the Youth RZR 170 class. Blake and the Level’s are now a part of our UTVUnderground family, and the adventure has just begun!
Until next time…..
Thank you to everyone who helped us make Blake’s wish come true!
The Level Family
The Make-A-Wish Foundation
Walker Evans Racing
Tommy Gun Images
All Star Signs
Troy Lee Designs
Active Screen Printing
Brian Borland & American Powdercoat
Devin Adkins & The Glamis Beach Store
Frankie Barouti & Giant RV
Dave Kuskie & Fullerton Sand Sports
Cecil Hsu & GRID Off-Road
Danny G & VANS
Aaron, Amy, and Seth Quintero
Camille, Mia, Enzo & Cristian DiGiovanni
Mitch Guthrie Jr.
Photos by: Tom Leigh // Tommy Gun Images & Jeremy Merrell // UTV Wolfpack
WE ARE SO HAPPY FRANK BAROUTI AND GIANT RV WAS PART OF THIS HAPPY OCCASION .
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