Fort Worth

Fort Worth boy with honorary scholarship on TCU swim team dies

Nathan Lin had a lot of fun during the last months of his life.

The 8-year-old Fort Worth boy thrilled at meeting the TCU basketball team and football team — including his hero, former star quarterback Trevone Boykin — and taking a trip to Disney, all arranged by the Make-A-Wish Foundation North Texas.

In February he signed a letter of intent — the tongue-in-cheek kind — to join the Horned Frogs swim team, and freestyled a strong 25-yard dash in the pool.

Throughout, he battled Grade IV glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer, which was diagnosed in July. He braved six weeks of radiation treatment and what was set up to be a two-year regimen of chemotherapy.

Nathan died Friday, after a recent recurrence of the tumor.

Until then, his mother, Cathy Lin, said, he usually felt pretty well — enough to enjoy the adventures arranged for him by Make-A-Wish, TCU, family and others in the community. That included the last excursion, a family spring-break vacation to California.

“We were given eight great months,” Cathy Lin said. “He had a lot crammed into a little bit of time.”

Surf’s up

In February, Nathan was feeling good and brimming with enthusiasm when he showed up at the TCU natatorium, his parents Cathy and Jeff Lin in tow. He was a huge TCU fan because his mom had been a decorated member of the swim team who qualified for the NCAA national swimming championships.

“Awesome!” he described his day to the gaggle of media awaiting his arrival.

TCU swim coach Richard Sybesma had seen how much Nathan loved meeting the TCU football and basketball teams. So he upped his game and decided on the letter of intent, an idea he admitted borrowing from baseball coach Jim Schlossnagle, who had used it in similar fashion a couple of years ago.

Nathan had been taking swimming lessons from Sybesma the past four springs. Sybesma was expecting to be proud.

“He’s learned how to swim correctly,” he said. “The stroke he did was freestyle, and I’ll tell you it was in perfect form.”

Dozens of swimmers cheered him at the finish.

“It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” said Maggie Burkhardt, who graduated last month after four years of competitive swimming at TCU. “I think having the entire team there meant a lot to him and made him feel very special, being a part of something so big and exciting.

“I hope he enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Jenny Urquhart, a “wish granter” with Make-A-Wish, said she knew she was dealing with a special kid by his answers to two questions.

One, favorite music: “Beethoven.”

Two, “What do you like to play when you’re with friends?”

“I like to play whatever they like to play, because it makes them happy,” she recalled as Nathan’s answer.

That’s an early age to be making other people’s happiness a priority, Urquhart said. “That’s the true way to make yourself happy.”

Cancer’s return

Sybesma, who coached Cathy Lin more than 30 years ago, admired Nathan’s seeming determination to be positive despite the cancer.

“He has been through the mill,” Sybesma said. “But a very happy kid.”

Nathan’s health began declining in late April. His parents and doctors were certain it must be a reaction to the chemo, especially since a recent MRI showed nothing to worry about. But the followup test revealed that the “ugly monster,” as his mother called it in a Facebook post, was back.

By Thursday, with Nathan fading, and his parents struggling to maintain their promise to be honest with him, they began having the talk with him, Cathy Lin said.

“I told him this is a battle that there’s nothing we could do about now,” she said. “No surgery, no radiation we could do this time. He was going to a better place where he wouldn’t be sick anymore.”

In an email Saturday morning to reporters who covered the honorary signing, Sybesma wrote: “Just wanted to let you know that Nathan Lin passed away yesterday. Thank you for your coverage of his experience.”

Visitation is 5-7 p.m. Thursday at Greenwood Funeral Home, 3100 White Settlement Road. Funeral services are at 10 a.m. Friday at Arborlawn United Methodist Church, 5001 Briarhaven Road in Fort Worth.

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez