BJJ helps Boston brothers cope with leukemia

by Rosemary Rimkus/ | source:

A 7-year-old Hudson boy, and the brother who donated his bone marrow to him when he was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago, recently brought home medals from the North American Grappling Association (NAGA) New England Championship Tournament in Twin River, R.I.

The Feb. 6 competition was the first for Rory Callum-King, a diminutive first grader, and 11-year-old Connor, who have honed their skills at Rising Sun Studio of Martial Arts, since May 2009. Both boys earned third place medals: Rory in novice class and Connor as a beginner.               

“The medals were a great thrill for all of us,” said their mother, Rhonda Callum-King. She said that training in jiu-jitsu and Brazilian with Doug MacDonald, “has made the boys stronger and tougher.”

Callum-King said BJJ is helping both of her boys overcome challenges: Rory with his leukemia, and Connor with bullying.

When Rory was diagnosed with leukemia before his second birthday, he received a bone marrow transplant from Connor, then 6 years old. Although the transplant was successful, Rory continues to have growth issues and visual problems, due to the large doses of radiation prior to the transplant.

In August 2009 he was forced to forego BJJ classes while he underwent major cataract surgery and was fitted with strong bifocals. Rory wears protective lenses while taking grappling lessons. Rhonda Callum-King says that while her son is much smaller than most kids in his class, his bouts with illness have not changed his outgoing personality. “He is kind of a joker,” she says.

“His brother Connor was the one who was having problems in school,” said his mother, “and when he reported that he was being bullied by classmates I took it seriously.” Her husband, Army Master Sgt. Andrew King, a Desert Storm veteran, is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and could only make suggestions from a distance.

Callum-King’s sister suggested that she look into martial arts classes, like karate, because it had been helpful with her children. “They didn’t take to the karate, but they both loved BJJ at Rising Sun,” said their mother.

She said both boys have been enthusiastic about the twice-a-week classes from the start. “Only when I interrupt a video game to remind them that it is a practice night, do they complain,” she said, “but they are soon grabbing their gear and going out the door.”

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