The first speaker at the Fields of Faith event at Badger Stadium last Wednesday told everyone they were about to hear a story, the likes they have never heard before.
The speaker was David Gong, and he was right about his story. The ultimate cancer survivor - 12 bouts with the disease - spoke to about 150 people about his life struggles, and how his life turned around when he accepted Jesus into his life at the age of 22.
The 46-year-old Gong, from Porterville, started swimming competitively at the age of four, and was a member of his high school’s water polo and swimming varsity teams as a freshmen, specializing in the breast stroke. Even as a freshman, he was one of the fastest swimmers in that event in the Central Valley.
It was during his sophomore year at Monache High School, that the 16-year-old knew something was wrong with his right knee. It turned out he had a cancerous tumor, and soon underwent nine months of chemo therapy.
Not being able to compete in the sports that he loved depressed him, and he soon started smoking pot, while his grades were falling.
“I got away with a lot cause I was the poor kid with cancer,” Gong said.
The very next year, cancer was found in his tibia below the knee, and Gong went through another nines month of chemo. In 1990, cancer returned to his left leg which forced an amputation below the knee. A year later, cancer invaded his lungs - yet another set-back.
And the cancer just kept coming, each time to a different part of his body.
He moved to San Diego to live with his brother, a policeman, but soon found himself depressed, involved with drugs, and sleeping in his car.
With encouragement from friends and family (his mother and father was at Fields of Faith with him), Gong decided to try swimming again, and regardless of all he had been through, found himself on the national swim team for the disabled, and a three time a national champion.
A former teacher told Gong he was always at his best when he was helping people and encouraged him to go volunteer at a cancer clinic.
“My first reaction was why would I want to go to a cancer center, a place that only had bad memories for me,” Gong said.
But he went and it changed his life.
“Over the past three years, I’ve had cancer three more times - it hasn’t been easy, but you can’t give up,” Gong said.
Other speakers at the faith-focused event were Tim Fortugno, a former Major League Baseball pitcher and now a scout, motivational speaker Chris Milton, Rick Alonzo, a Kingsburg minister who does paint ministry.
Music was provided by The Shaw Family Band.