GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Craig Denney came to Spencer-Chavez Memorial Gymnasium on Friday night well-prepared.
He was wearing gloves and a skull cap, and he had a full bottle of sanitation spray in his coat pocket. And along with that list of things, the Glenwood Springs High School athletic director brought smiles, hugs, handshakes and tears.
“There’s a lot of things now that my wife [Ann] and I call God things,” Denney said. “There’s just so many things that we consider to be a blessing.”
Last week, Denney, who on Nov. 18 of last year was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma, made his first appearances at GSHS sporting events since the diagnosis. He’s been undergoing chemotherapy treatment ever since, spending time between his home right behind Stubler Memorial Field and Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.
School administrators have been sharing his athletic-director duties since Denney was diagnosed. Denney, however, is coming down what he calls the “homestretch” of his treatment. He’ll go to Valley View for a five-day chemotherapy treatment, which is the final part of the four-cycle treatment program he’ll have to undergo.
And he can’t wait.
“I’m tired,” said Denney, who is in his sixth year as the high school’s athletic director. “These last two weeks have really taken a toll on me.”
Denney, 52, admitted that he made it to two Glenwood Springs High School sporting events last week. The first came last Thursday when the Demons hosted a triangular wrestling meet, as he snuck into the school’s old gymnasium and tucked himself away in the corner in an effort to stay low-key.
The second — Glenwood’s boys and girls home basketball doubleheader against Palisade this past Friday — wasn’t nearly as low key. Once he was spotted, students and close friends watching the game came from across the gym to hug him and greet him, lighting up the eyes of Denney and the eyes of everyone around him. After every handshake, however, Denney had to take the time to spray sanitizer on his hands to prevent the possible threat of sickness since chemotherapy has taken a toll on his immune system.
He embraced many students and friends, even taking a moment to weep in one friend’s arms. He made the effort to do a face-time call with his daughter, Avery, panning his phone around the gym to show her the crowd while he had a big smile on his face.
The basketball teams even noticed Denney there, though not immediately.
“I didn’t want to tell them right away,” said Glenwood girls coach Jacky Gaddis, who saw Denney walk into the gym during the second quarter of her team’s game against Palisade. “I waited to say something at halftime, which turned out to be a good move.”
Indeed, the Demons went on a 10-0 run to start the third quarter to take a 13-point lead on their way to a 45-37 victory.
“We ended the halftime huddle by yelling ‘Denney’s Demons,’” senior point guard Delaney Gaddis said. “And that’s what we are. We’re Denney’s Demons.”
Denney’s chemotherapy is administered into his chest cavity so, unlike an intravenous administration, the medication can travel through the body more easily. The chemotherapy takes a toll on his immune system, and Denney’s team of doctors would like for his white-blood cell count to show an increase by the beginning of February. The final treatment is scheduled to begin Tuesday and will take five days to complete.
That same team of doctors said Denney should be able to return to work by the middle of next month, but his work schedule won’t be anywhere close to the self-administered 60-hour work weeks he put in at the beginning of the year. It will be closer to a three-hour day in the office, with much more work coming from home than the high school campus.
Doctors told Denney that his low-sleep, high-stress, high-sugar regimen played a huge contributing factor in what led to Denney’s diagnosis, but an immediate diet and lifestyle change has made for a positive prognosis. Plus, he has the support of his wide Ann, who is still in remission from the cancer she was treated for 14 years ago.
Then there’s the community support the Denneys have gotten, which has included meals, well wishes, fundraising events and get-well cards that are still being mailed to Denney’s house.
“I get choked up just thinking about it,” Craig Denney said. “I mean, I don’t do this job hoping some parent will come and praise me for something. You do this job because you enjoy children and you want to see those kids succeed and grow. That’s why I do the job.
“I’m so lucky,” he continued. “I live four blocks away from a very good hospital and live in a wonderful place where everyone takes care of each other. I just can’t thank everyone enough for everything that’s been done for us.”