Oshkosh gymnast qualifies for nationals while battling cancer

Posted at 7:32 PM, Apr 19, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-20 20:59:27-04

Evan Van Aacken, 16 of Oshkosh, has just qualified for the 2017 USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Nationals, but outside of the sport he is facing a greater battle: cancer. 

"At first I kind of thought like 'Oh great my season is over,’ but as soon as I came back here, they all encouraged me and pushed me to get back," Evan said.

Evan started gymnastics at the Oshkosh Gymnastic Center when he was just three years old.  In 2011 he joined the Swiss Turners Gymnastic Academy in West Allis.

"The days that I haven't been here, have been really lonely, because they're like my family,” Evan said. “So every time I come in here, it makes me a lot happier.”

Life changed for Evan in January when doctors made a shocking discovery.  The pain he felt from a large mass was testicular cancer.  He had surgery, but later found the cancer spread.

"The feeling was terrible," he said.  "I didn't know like what to think, kind of just, my emotions are always like happy and as soon as I heard that, all of them went away.  It was just kind of depressing."

Evan's coach Ben Jacobs of Milwaukee said it was truly remarkable he was able to achieve such levels.

"The entire stadium stood up and just applauded and then all the competitors stood up and applauded for like 3 minutes straight," Jacobs said.  "It was truly amazing because doing six events at a competitive level 10, which is what he is, the highest level in Junior Olympics gymnastics, to do all six while going through chemo is pretty hard."  

Evan's father William Van Aacken said at the age of 15, when Evan was diagnosed, he was not doing "self examinations," which is not typical for a teen.  Now the family wants to spread awareness.

"Just for men, make sure that you check yourself," Van Aacken said. "It's obviously very important and the sooner you can do it the better."

Cancer hasn't stopped Evan.  He feels most at home in the gym. 

"I just want to do really well," Evan said.  "I want to prove to people that it's hard doing things, but it’s worth it if you can push through it." 

Evan will travel to nationals in Orlando in May.

This week Evan is having chemotherapy and his coach expects him to return next week.