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KINDRED SPIRITS

Cubs’ pitcher, a cancer survivor, connects with Humboldt’s Clark through social media

Submitted photo by Cassie Harklau Humboldt's Ashlyn Clark displays her home run ball after Monday night’s game. In the middle of a Stage 4 cancer fight, Clark went deep for the first time in her high school career. This picture went viral on social media, eventually attracting the attention of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Jon Lester.

Jon Lester is a three-time world champion, a five-time All-Star, a 14-year Major League veteran, and quite possibly a future Hall of Famer.

He’s also a cancer survivor. So when a picture of Humboldt’s Ashlyn Clark found its way to Lester’s Twitter timeline, the Chicago Cubs’ left-handed pitcher reached out — putting the power of social media into motion.

“I honestly thought it was a mistake when I saw it,” said Clark, who happens to be a Cubs fan. “You don’t see professional athletes personally connecting with young adults everyday.”

Clark, the affable senior softball player who had already captured the attention of Iowans young and old following her diagnosis and during her recent fight with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, saw her story go viral this week when she hit the first home run of her high school career while playing between cancer treatments. The storybook night, which came on Monday as the Wildcats defeated Clear Lake to clinch the North Central Conference championship, was on the eve of Clark’s 18th birthday.

The almost-mythical performance caught the eye of thousands online, thanks to a photo of Clark and her home run ball taken by family friend Cassie Harklau of Humboldt. Originally posted by The Messenger’s Twitter account, the picture had been retweeted nearly 700 times and accumulated well over 5,000 likes by Thursday evening.

Ultimately, the post reached Lester. At 12:32 p.m. on Thursday, Lester tweeted:

Lester later recognized The Messenger’s sports staff for shedding the light on Clark’s story, tweeting, “thanks for bringing this to my attention!”

Clark admitted the wave of recent notoriety can be “very overwhelming,” but words of inspiration — from any and all directions — have helped her through this physical and emotional rollercoaster ride.

“At first I never thought that this would impact so many people,” said Clark, an Iowa Central volleyball recruit. “It kind of takes you back to the reality that everyone is human, and you see how other people have fought and won their own personal battles.”

Lester was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma after experiencing back pain during the 2006 campaign. He underwent off-season chemotherapy treatments in Seattle, and was cleared to play by 2007.

Lester won the 2007 Tony Conigliaro Award for his comeback from lymphoma, and has been one of the most effective and consistent pitchers in baseball ever since. He’s suited up for the Red Sox, Athletics and, since 2015, the Cubs.

Lester and his wife, Farrah, helped establish the NVRQT campaign with the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation in 2012. According to their website, www.nvrqt.org, the goal is to “provide inspiration for those who suffer with cancer, and support researchers who choose to dedicate themselves to finding a cure.”

Clark’s most recent chemotherapy treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. came on her birthday Tuesday — less than 24 hours after her home run. Clark’s mother, Kristi, confirmed that Ashlyn is planning on playing in Humboldt’s regional semifinal on Friday at home against Algona.

The Clark family is currently in communication with Lester to decide which game they will attend at Wrigley Field in Chicago.