WEST POINT, -Justin Wofford got possibly the most unusual Christmas present ever from his new friend, Jimmy Gentry of Las Vegas. But it’s one that he nor Gentry will ever forget.
Gentry, 46, grew up in Los Angeles, moved to Tampa, Fla., and then settled in Las Vegas about eight years ago. His parents, Bill and Sandy, retired to West Point several years ago.
On Dec. 1, 2011, Gentry was diagnosed with very advanced colorectal cancer. “I went through treatment, which was horrific,” he said. “Two types of chemotherapy at the same time, along with radiation therapy. It turns out that I was allergic to one kind of chemo, and I lost almost 50 pounds because I was so sick. I didn’t have 50 pounds to lose. I was not supposed to live.”
Around the same time, Gentry was overexposed to the radiation therapy and was hospitalized in Las Vegas for almost a month with severe burns. “My body was black from my chest all the way down to the tops of my thighs,” he said. “I was so weak.”
On May 14, 2012, Gentry was declared cancer-free. “But I didn’t even have the chance to celebrate,” he said. “I started having trouble with my legs, and before long I could barely walk.” Two doctors gave him little hope of ever walking again.
After fighting the cancer so hard for so long, this latest challenge was almost more than Gentry could bear. “I had lost my strength, my hope, my drive, my will to live,” he confessed.
He was forced to rely on a four-pronged cane and a walker, which made it virtually impossible to maneuver the stairs in his Las Vegas condo. “My parents invited me to stay with them for awhile,” he said. “I said I would come on three conditions: (1) you drive my car, (2) I can bring my dog and (3) you get me into your gym.”
His father flew out to Las Vegas to drive Gentry and his dog to West Point, and they worked out a temporary membership at the NMMC-West Point Wellness Center, where they are faithful members.
“I had just bought a gym membership in Las Vegas right before I got sick,” Gentry said. “I got my physician’s clearance to join in West Point and I went twice to exercise on my own, but I didn’t know much I could do. I couldn’t even walk without my cane or walker.”
Wofford, who is a nursing student at Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, works part-time at the Wellness Center and spoke as Gentry was leaving his second visit. “Justin asked me how I was doing, and I told him I had done the few things I knew how to do,” he said. “He asked me if I had tried squats and when I told him no, he asked if I was willing to try. I said yeah, but you’re going to catch me, right? Because I’m going to fall.”
Wofford helped Gentry with squats, then continued to add more and more exercises each day, including some Cross Fit moves. “Justin pushed me, not in a bad way but in a very encouraging way,” he said. “He believed in me more than I believed in myself.”
When Wofford asked him about his goal, Gentry said, “I really want to walk by Christmas.” As they continued to work out day by day, his legs got stronger, as did his arms and chest, which motivated him to keep going. Little by little, he got steadier on his feet.
“My job was easy. He did the real work,” Wofford said. “He had to show up every day and trust me when I asked him to do something out of his comfort zone. He inspired me and makes my job worth going to.”
The week of Christmas, Gentry began walking without assistance. Then he had an idea. “I know it’s kind of corny, but I wanted Justin to know how grateful I am. how much this means to me,” he said. So he took the cane he no longer needs and wrote in silver pen:
“You have given me the greatest gift. You have given me my legs and the ability to walk again. My deepest gratitude, Jimmy Gentry. Merry Christmas 2012.”
He presented Wofford with the cane during their Christmas Eve workout. Gentry will head back to Las Vegas on Jan. 3, but he’ll go back with more than just a new friend and workout partner. “He has given me my strength, my drive, my hope back that I had lost,” he said.
Gentry said he realizes he still has a long way to go to recovery, but Wofford isn’t sending him back empty-handed. “He designed a workout for me to take home, along with instructions reminding me how to do everything,” he said.