By CRISTINA JANNEY
Sophia Linenberger, a sophomore at Thomas More Prep-Marian, has something to cheer about when the Kansas City Chiefs take the field for the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.
Sophia was diagnosed in January 2019 with a rare cancer, Ewing's sarcoma. She spent much of last year going back and forth to Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City for treatment, including two surgeries to her spine.
In November, Sophia was asked to represent Children's Mercy at Mahomes' charity gala, 15 and the Mahomies.
Sophia had wanted to meet Mahomes for some time. He visited Children's Mercy, but Sophia was home on a break from her treatment and missed him by a day.
Sophia accepted a $15,000 donation for Children's Mercy from Mahomes' foundation. She also received an autographed Mahomes helmet from the Children's Mercy CEO.
"He's really nice, and he's a really genuine person," she said of Mahomes.
Sophia gave Mahomes and Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce both yellow Sophia Strong bracelets that TMP had made for her.
Mahomes said he would wear the bracelet in his upcoming game. He not only wore the bracelet in that game, but has continued to wear Sophia's bracelet, including during the AFC Championship on Sunday.
"Every time we see it on the TV, we pause the TV and take all kinds of pictures," Sophia said.
Sophia also follows Mahomes' longtime girlfriend Brittany Mathews online. She posted a video of Mahomes on Thanksgiving, and he was wearing Sophia's wristband then as well.
In an interview with the Kansas City Star, Mahomes talked about Sophia's wristband and wristbands he wears from other kids battling serious illnesses.
Sophia said she has three things in common with Mahomes.
"I was 15 years old when I was diagnosed with cancer, and his number is 15," she said. "Me and him put ketchup on everything. I won my battle with cancer and hopefully he will win the Super Bowl."
Sophia is in remission from her cancer. She missed most of 2019 from school, but was able to return to school for the first time since her remission Tuesday. She is also excited that her hair is growing back after she lost it as a result of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
"I was really excited to go to school today," she said. "It made me feel normal."
She said her classmates welcomed her back, saying hi to her in the hallways and classrooms.
"I am just really excited to watch the Super Bowl," Sophia said. "I just wish I could be there to see him in person, but I will definitely be watching him on TV and we will be pausing and taking all kinds of pictures again."
Sophia's mother, Jenny, said she has been humbled by Mahomes.
Jenny was raised in California and had always been an Oakland Raiders fan. However, since Mahomes wore Sophia's bracelet, Jenny has become a Chiefs fan.
"I am all Mahomies. He is a great guy," Jenny said. "He is a very genuine guy, a very nice guy, very kind with a big, gigantic heart."
Jenny also said she was thankful to the Hays community for all the support they have shown Sophia and their family.
The TMP-M football team honored Sophia on senior night, allowing her to participate in the coin toss. She happily announced her remission that evening.
The FHSU football team also met with Sophia last fall and signed a football for her.