Freestyle XVIII: Dario Villaseñor Valdivia | OHSU Foundation

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Age: 13
Hometown: Vancouver, Washington
Diagnosis: Juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia
Shoe: Nike Air Huarache Run

Dario Villaseñor Valdivia may only be 14, but his medical team describes him as an old soul with wisdom beyond his years. Dario’s journey has certainly been a challenging one—when he received a bone marrow transplant seven years ago to treat his leukemia, his body attacked the donor cells, resulting in severe chronic lung disease.

However, no matter how Dario is feeling or what he’s dealing with, he always has a smile and a “How are you doing today?” for everyone he meets. While Dario says he draws strength and optimism from his family, his mom Rosa says it’s the other way around. “He has really taught us a lot about perseverance,” she said. “On the days I don’t feel strong, I just follow his example and it lifts my spirits up.”

“You know that poster with the kitten that says ‘hang in there?’ That’s Dario,” added his dad Jose.

Dario is more than a constant source of inspiration to his friends and family—he’s also a constant source of entertainment. A natural comedian, he loves to tell jokes and impress his pals with uncannily accurate voice impressions of everyone from Mickey Mouse to Scooby Doo.

Needless to say, Dario’s vibrant personality is evident throughout his custom collection. He loves eating oranges, which explains the bright orange color and pebbled texture of the upper. The brown furry material is a nod to the plush toy that his big sister bought him years ago after a long hospital stay. As for the stick figures on the toe box, they represent Dario’s passion for animation, which he plans to do professionally someday. (Want to see more of his work? Check out his YouTube channel.)

To top it all off, Dario included the two words that serve as his personal mantra through life: Siempre Fuerte (Always Strong). “My friends tell me that I’ve always been strong, so I thought it might inspire other people to be strong too,” he said.