JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s not the amount of time you’re here, but the amount of impact you make during that time.
That’s the motto that Jake Berglund lived by.
Always smiling. Always inspiring. Still inspiring.
Berglund, a freshman at Yulee High School who served as the Hornets’ mascot, Buzz, died on Easter following a two-year battle with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In his 15 years here, Jake did more than many do in a lifetime. His smile against odds that grew longer by the day, was with him until the end.
“I look back over my life, and I know I’ve impacted people, maybe not enough, but I’ve done some [positive] things," said Yulee principal Natasha Drake. “I’m looking at this kid and I’m like, in 15 years, you’ve surpassed anything that I could imagine doing. And it’s been through a trial. It’s been through personal suffering. But always having that face of courage. He’s absolutely one of the most resilient people I’ve ever met.”
Jake’s family announced on its Team Jake Facebook page that Jake died on his own terms. Jake wanted to come home after more than a month in the hospital and enjoy the time he had left, however short that may have been.
And enjoy it he did.
Last Friday, a parade of friends, teachers and administrators flooded Jake’s neighborhood and celebrated him. One friend on Facebook called it the best traffic jam ever. And Jake also wanted to be baptized after he came home, and he was, in a hot tub in one of the most poignant videos that you’ll see. It had nearly 50,000 views on Facebook in just seven hours. There was another celebration for him on Saturday, too.
Resilience is part of Jake’s story.
Even during grueling treatments for his leukemia, Jake would take a break from chemotherapy and show up at Yulee athletic events prepared to get into the Buzz costume and put on a show, said Drake.
When he learned of others who were battling severe illnesses or staring at unfavorable odds against a terminal disease, it was Jake who would do his best to provide encouragement.
“He became an ambassador. It wasn’t just about him, but he was an ambassador for all these other children that are facing terminal diseases," Drake said. “And he’s the first one if he knew that you were hurting about something, he wanted to take care of you.”
Jake’s journey had been well-documented, probably because of his attitude and his smile. It would have been easy to self-isolate against what he was facing, but Berglund never did.
“It never got to the point where he was questioning it, why me?,” said Baker County quarterback and Georgia Southern signee Alex Bowen, a former neighbor of Jake’s in Yulee. “It was just, ‘how can I use this to impact other people?’”
He battled through an agonizing first round of treatment that lasted nearly a year before being placed into a maintenance treatment program.
Jake’s leukemia returned on March 6 and he’d been in the hospital nearly every day since before choosing to come home last Wednesday.
The Chainsmokers sent Jake a video message on March 12 before the took the stage at The Players military appreciation event at which Jake was supposed to attend. Tom Coughlin’s Jay Fund was a major supporter of Jake. He visited the Baseball Grounds and threw out a pitch at a Jumbo Shrimp game. He was a Dreams Come True participant. He was Yulee’s freshman class president. President Donald Trump called Jake last week. Tim Tebow shared a FaceTime call with him.
And, he was proudly Buzz, Yulee’s mascot.
There are pictures of Jake on the sideline at Yulee football games and others posing alongside iconic Hornets running back Derrick Henry during a ceremony to retire his high school jersey.
Jake elected to end his treatment last week and returned home from Wolfson Children’s Hospital on Wednesday to begin hospice care. Tests showed that, despite intense and debilitating types of drug treatments, the disease was spreading.
What message did Jake leave? Easy, Bowen said.
“Just hope. He had a card and it said, losing is not an option. We were at his house and he told us, ‘I’m not losing.’ He said, ‘I’m going to heaven, I’m going to be winning.’ At 15 years old, that’s tough to say. But just the strength that he had and to know if you put your trust in God, things will be all right,” he said.
Jake’s resolve was evident and his words from a Dream Day event last June embody the boy who left an impact all the way down to his final breath: “I don’t look at it as, oh, why me, that I was diagnosed with cancer. I look at it as an opportunity as, why not me? When you have a horrible disease such as leukemia, it makes me proud at the end of the day know that I can leave treatment and know I gave it my all.”