By Mike Max

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is parents night for the Chanhassen football team.

John and Sherry Noonan are there to support their senior son, Max, but it’s more than that. John has helped coach at Chanhassen with the sophomore team.

“I love the kids. I don’t even, I like football and I like all the other sports, but I love the kids,” John said. “No matter what goes on in the day, I get to practice and I show up, these bunch of smiling faces. You can’t have anything but a great day.”

The reason he can coach and support his family is that he made it big as an investor in his 30s. He was semi-retired by age 45. He is now 55 years old.

“I was a stock broker for years, and just had some fortunate breaks and ended up going on my own a little over 20 years ago,” he said. “And so it afforded me a lot of free time.”

So he has had a chance to coach his two sons and many of their friends and teammates. It has been special.

“It was the nicest thing ever, just to see how many players, or how many friends of mine supported my dad in everything that he has been going through, and it just brought a big smile to my face,” Max Noonan said.

What makes it even more special is the diagnosis he got nearly two years ago.

“I can remember when the doctor came back in the room and he had tears in his eyes, he’s a real good friend,” John said. “And he says, he goes, ‘I think we got something serious here,’ and I go, “No, no, no. You can’t, you sure you got the right X-ray?’”

It was lung cancer, and it was terminal.

“It was surreal. You just don’t believe it. He’s healthy, he eats well, he lifts weights every day, he’s, you know, lives in the country, fresh air,” Sherry Noonan said.

Thinking he had six month left, he built a green house where he and his wife could spend time.

“You know, they’re telling my six months, you think, ‘Alright, I’m done in six months. I don’t buy that, but just in case,’ so I built a green house,” he said.

He found out what others think of him.

“I don’t see a negative in this, and that’s the way we roll,” John’s wife said. “We see positive and we keep moving, and he spreads his love around wherever he goes, and people receive it and give it back.”

And he explained to his two sons what he was up against.

“The only comeback I had to them, I said, ‘Hey guys, I got terminal cancer, and it’s going to get me one day, but not today,” John said. “And we’ve been living that ever since.”

In the process, there has been much love from his fellow coaches and players.

“Some of these kids I coached, I picked them off the field and helped them wipe their tears and their snot on their noses. Now they’re big kids and I got hugs from them all,” he said. “Pretty special.”

He has helped shaped lives with attitude.

“Every kid is the best player he’s ever seen, and so we’ll talk to him, like, ‘Come on coach!’ He’s like, ‘No! Listen to me!’ He’ll get upset with us, so he’s positive as the day is long,” Chanhassen head coach Mike Bailey said.

And that has been his mission — accepting cancer as a great blessing that changed his life for the better.

“I was so caught up in, like maybe people are a lot of times in their life, I was caught up in the world, caught up in, you know, making a living, making money and being a success and all of these kinds of other things like that, and all of a sudden none of that mattered anymore,” John said. “All of a sudden, a moment with my wife, a moment with my kids is worth six months.”

And he has taught his two sons what he wants them to embody; to fight through and fight on.

“It really taught me to push forward and to just kind of try to start to live life like he does, always be happy, always be positive,” Max said.

That positivity came from an unlikely place.

“If you think you love your kids, put a clock on it, and all of the sudden it’s multiplied by 100-fold,” John said. “My wife — all of the sudden, I’ll say ‘I’m the luckiest cat there ever was!’ That’s what cancer’s done for me. I feel like the luckiest guy there is.”

These days are precious for the Noonans.

“Now, they talk about things like, ‘You’re in the late innings,'” John said. “No, I just don’t feel that in my heart. We just keep battling on.”

The team is unbeaten, and his impact is felt everywhere inside it.

“He’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever met in my life,” “He looks at the world through a different lens — one that I hope I can eventually get to. He’s constantly seeking opportunity to lift people up.”

What he wants his sons to know is simple:

“I want them to know that I’ll never quit. I’ll keep fighting however hard or however long it is — I’ll never quit,” he said. “I hope that love is deeply imprinted on their heart, that no matter what they always know that I loved them with all my heart.”

It’s that fight that he’s most proud.

“If they look at their dad, I want them to know that their dad never quit,” he said. “Until the very, very end — whenever that is, and who knows when that is. I know what the doctors say, but whenever that end is, that I love them, I always loved them and will always keep loving them.”


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