Kodi Tutt stood in front of the North Texas soccer team Wednesday in her pink shoes with butterfly wings attached and shared her story of triumph and tragedy, of hospital stays and battling cancer.
Tutt’s tale has touched the hearts of hundreds of people from her hometown of Sanger to those as far away as Australia, including Kelsey Hodges.
The UNT senior met the family a few months ago when she began working with Kodi Tutt’s older sister Maegan on her soccer skills.
What started out as a fun way to help out a young player turned into something much more meaningful for Hodges, who helped organize a charity event surrounding the Mean Green’s Conference USA opener at 7 p.m. Friday against Southern Mississippi.
UNT will have a bounce house, face painting station and silent auction beginning at 5:30 p.m., with all proceeds going to the Kick It Kodi foundation.
“After getting to know them over the last year, it felt like the right thing to do,” Hodges said. “They have given a lot to me as far as getting to know Kodi and Maegan and kind of being their older sister. It seemed like a cool idea, and they already have the Kick it Kodi foundation that helps kids with cancer who don’t have the opportunities every little kid should have to run and play.”
Kodi, an energetic redhead who is now 9, was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve cells, on March 9, 2010.
Kodi had tumors all over body, including in her bones and spine. Doctors discovered a tumor about the size of a football.
Three years of aggressive treatment, including six rounds of chemotherapy and two types of radiation, have beaten the disease back. Kodi has been cancer-free for a year and three months.
The Tutt family credits the support they received since their daughter was diagnosed with cancer with helping them deal with the challenges they have faced along the way.
Tracy W. Tutt, Kodi’s father, is a firefighter in Sanger and was able to rally the support of the community and firefighters in the region.
Hodges played a role in the connection the Tutt family has with the regional soccer community. Kodi played soccer before being diagnosed with cancer.
Hodges started out as a soccer tutor for Maegan but quickly turned into much more for the family.
Even though she couldn’t play, Kodi would watch while Hodges worked with her sister. Hodges quickly developed a friendship with both sisters.
“Kodi was always around,” Tracy W. Tutt said. “Kelsey has taken a big-sister role for Maegan and has been Maegan’s go-to person so she would have a big sister in all this and wouldn’t get lost. Kelsey has taken her in and supported her.”
The support people like Hodges have provided the family has inspired them to help others.
The Kick It Kody foundation was formed to help support the Tutts, who are shifting its focus to raising awareness of childhood cancer.
“A lot of people know about Kodi,” Tracy W. Tutt said. “I have mailed stickers to Australia, and there has been a lot of exposure for her all over the United States. She wants to help other people who are going through what she went through and what our family went through. It was a natural transition. It’s our family’s style to help other folks out.”
Hodges saw an opportunity to help the foundation grow with Friday’s game. She made most of the arrangements for the events that will surround the game with the help of UNT athletic department officials.
Hodges has shared more about Kodi and her family with her teammates as the days have dwindled before Friday’s event.
Hodges said she can sense her teammates are excited about the game and helping the family, especially after meeting Kodi on Wednesday.
Kodi was invited onto the field, watched as Hodges worked with her teammates and tried to not spill water on her Kick it Kodi T-shirt while drinking from a water bottle.
Those moments with Hodges are special for Kodi.
“Kelsey has been helping my sister with soccer and has helped us plan the soccer game and with other stuff for our foundation,” Kodi said. “I’m excited about the game. It’s going to be fun.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.