Ryan Teixeira was deemed too old to go on a Make-A-Wish trip while he was battling cancer.

His family has spent the six months since his passing working to make sure similar young adults don't have to worry about that.

On Thursday night, the 17 Strong Foundation, a non-profit founded by the late Teixeira, who was a star football and baseball player at Arroyo Grande High School, revealed its first recipients of the charity's driving goal: Victory trips.

The 17 Strong Foundation donated week-long trips to three local residents who have fought and beaten various forms of cancer.

Breast cancer survivor Mellissa Matheson, of Orcutt, will travel with her husband Ryan to Saint Lucia, an island in the Caribbean. 

Orcutt native Jimmy Aldridge, a St. Joseph High School graduate and colon cancer survivor, will travel to Tokyo with a friend.

Lompoc native Ryan MacKereth, who fought off testicular cancer, will travel on an Alaskan cruise with his new wife Jessie. 

Ryan Teixeira's parents Steve and Holly have worked tirelessly to grow the 17 Strong Foundation over the last year and were front-and-center at Thursday's ceremony, held at Arroyo Grande High School.

"Ryan's only been gone since March, so everything is still raw," Steve said. "But to see this come to light and for us to be able to actually do it, it's just amazing. I know that Ryan is looking down and I know he's saying, 'Good job.'

"This is what he wanted."

Aldridge, who graduated high school in 2009, said his and the Teixeira family go way back, but he never met Ryan. Today, though, Aldridge feels like he knows him well.

"It's an amazing honor and privilege," Aldridge said of earning a victory trip. "At first I was just kind of shy and cautious. I didn't really like to put it out there too much, what I had gone through. But seeing Ryan's positive attitude and how he handled it, it definitely was an influence on me. Now that we get to do this victory trip I think it's a great way to honor Ryan.

"I got positivity from Ryan. He's given back to me. So my positivity is what I try to give out."

Aldridge said he chose Tokyo for his destination as a way to challenge himself. 

Matheson was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014 and she and her husband Ryan are eager to use the victory trip as a first vacation without their three young children. 

"It'll be awesome," Matheson said. "Moms don't really get to relax while we're on vacation."

MacKereth now lives in Hollywood. He was home-schooled while growing up in Lompoc and was in nursing school when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

"My wife and I always talked about a trip to Alaska," MacKereth said. "So when they asked us about a victory trip, we knew for sure that Alaska was No. 1. So I think the best way to get there is by boat. So we're going to cruise it up there."

MacKereth was touched by the 17 Strong's mission of providing support for younger adults who've beaten cancer. A group that is sometimes marginalized.

"I was blown away because there aren't a lot of things like this for younger adults," MacKereth said. "I felt so honored by it. I really didn't know what to think of it. I'm just so thankful and honored."

Nicole Pittman, Ryan Teixeira's girlfriend, said it was a lot of work to organize and raise funds for these trips, but the foundation is just getting started.

"Ryan was all about going big," Pittman said. "So we're going to keep going and going. He wanted 17 Strong to be like Make-A-Wish. So that's what we're going to do."

Joe Bailey is the sports editor at Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Contact him with tips and story ideas at jbailey@leecentralcoastnews.com or (805) 739-2239. Follow him on Twitter at @jbaileysmsports


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