Cancer took his leg. Carson Fox wouldn’t let it steal his football dreams

Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox places his prosthetic leg on a football while standing on the field.
Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox hasn’t let a rare form of cancer — or his prosthetic leg — stop him from following his football dream.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He bends and grips the laces of the football, entering a unique lunge the moment before he snaps the ball between his legs.

Los Alamitos’ Carson Fox walks with a prosthesis on his left leg, extending above the knee. It can’t bend and lock efficiently — a problem, since that’s how snappers generate power to hike the ball. There’s no instruction manual for this. He’s just had to mess around with a football in the backyard to figure this out.

So, on Friday nights at short snapper for one of the best teams in the Southern Section, the junior props his prosthesis straight out at an angle. He plants his left heel on the ground, points his toes to the sky and leans most of his weight on his right leg. As he thrusts the ball, his right leg locks.

And the snaps, coach Ray Fenton said, are impeccable.

“The position he gets in to snap the ball, I can’t do that,” Fenton said. “But he has such determination and grit that he’s gonna make it work.”


Fox won’t say he’s special. He won’t say he’s an inspiration. He didn’t go through this climb back to make a statement. He just wanted to return to something familiar.

Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox looks at the camera while sitting on a football field.
Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox has come a long way since having part of his left leg amputated 18 months ago.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

But players come up to him during games, congratulating him on his recovery. The Los Alamitos stands have chanted his name. He’s told his mom, Shannon, he doesn’t want any of it, that he doesn’t want to feel recognized.

“There’s always that one kid in the hospital bed that’s going through the same thing as you, and you’re inspiring them,” Shannon would say.

Because 18 months ago, that kid was Carson, howling in pain at the slightest movement. Eighteen months ago, he was faced with a choice: life or his leg.

But what was life without his leg?

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In spring 2021, when he was 15, Fox had a happy life readying for baseball, training in football, hanging with buddies, surfing.


“I was just in a really good point,” Carson said. “And then all this went down and it just flipped.”

After a defensive lineman landed on Carson’s left leg in a spring football game his freshman year, he slumped on his crutches a few days later into The Athlete’s Advantage, a chiropractic office in Garden Grove Carson he frequented.

“What is wrong with you?” asked Dr. Roni Negro, a chiropractor at the clinic. “You look awful.”

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He was known for beaming eyes, glinting golden hair, his full-speed-ahead attitude. He was the kid who’d drive his mom crazy, staying outside and practicing ollies on his skateboard long after the sun went down, only going to bed when his board flipped just right.

But walking into the clinic, that kid was gone. The eyes were sunk. The hair drooped. And it wasn’t just the fracture.

When she touched his leg, it “[lit] him up like a Christmas tree” in pain, Negro remembered.


Carson’s hamstring had started hurting the previous fall. The family thought it was just a pulled muscle. But an initial scan of his ankle revealed something else. Later, a magnetic resonance imaging scan showed a tumor behind his left knee. The pain was worsening as a biopsy confirmed the tumor was cancerous in March 2021. It was telangiectatic osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer so rare that it accounts for fewer than 4% of all cases of osteosarcoma, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox takes part in a recent team practice.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“I was just thinking about the next step. Like, how am I going to get back to walking? How am I going to get back to football? How am I going to get back to everyday life?”

— Carson Fox

How did it all happen this fast?

“I looked at cancer as something terrible,” Fox said, “but as something that wouldn’t happen to me, you know?”

Two rounds of chemotherapy didn’t slow the growth, and the tumor began to push against his leg structure, the agony unbearable. A surgeon told the family it was time for action. By Memorial Day weekend, the fear started to kick in as his dad, JD, wheeled him down the hallway at Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach to the operating room.

Hours later, Carson woke up to a mess of wires, and in a haze of anesthesia did not initially remember why he was there. Until he looked down.


His left leg, from above the knee down, was amputated.

“I don’t want to see it,” JD remembered his son saying. “I don’t want to see it.”

News of Carson’s plight zipped around Los Alamitos. JD was a local firefighter and Shannon a nurse, raising boys that were mainstays in local youth sports.

“It hit everybody hard,” Ken Fox, Carson’s uncle, said. “Because they knew the family. They felt tied to the family.”

Community members said public prayers at St. Hedwig Catholic Church. At the grocery store, Los Alamitos school nurse Cassandra Palacios would see people she’d never met before wearing “Fox Fortitude” T-shirts and wristbands, courtesy of a slogan created by Ken Fox.

Shannon’s co-workers at the hospital, Ken said, donated their sick days to her so she could stay home and take care of Carson. Kean, Carson’s cousin, would walk into the house to a massive basket of gift cards.

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Carson loved the support but hated the attention. He didn’t want to be “the kid with cancer,” Shannon said.

After the amputation, he was back to lifting weights by August, between rounds of chemotherapy. Before going in for treatment, JD said, Carson would work out for three hours, demoralized he’d lost so much muscle.


“I was just thinking about the next step,” Carson said. “Like, how am I going to get back to walking? How am I going to get back to football? How am I going to get back to everyday life?”

The first step was a prosthesis. And the first time he was fitted in the hospital, it was uncomfortable. A strange weight was at the end of his leg. Sports, let alone football, seemed unimaginable.

“This is a stretch,” he thought.

Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox walks on a football field with a prosthetic leg.
It didn’t take long for Carson Fox to get used to his prosthetic leg.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“I think he’s starting to realize how unique he is, because he went through all that and now he’s out here starting on varsity football.”

— C.J. Berthon, Fox’s friend and teammate

But slowly, he graduated from crutches to tentative steps with a walker to a cane. By September 2021, he was moving on his own, sticking his tongue out and pursing his lips in triumphant concentration. It was the same face he made on a wakeboard a couple of months later, shredding surf on a trip up to the Colorado River, an artificial foot on the end of his prosthetic leg for balance.

“Carson’s so stubborn and so athletic that anybody who tells him how to do something, he’s bothered,” Shannon said. “Because he thinks he knows better, he knows more, he could do it faster on his own. So he blew through all the physical therapy.”


And in November, he ambled into Miller Children’s without crutches, nurses cheering as he dinged a bell on the wall — signifying the end of his chemotherapy.

“For he’s a jolly good patient, for he’s a jolly good patient, for he’s a jolly good patient, which no one can deny!” the staff caroled.

That chapter was complete.

Carson looked baffled the first time Los Alamitos track and field coach Nathan Howard asked him to come out for the team in the winter, the coach remembered.

Him? Come out to … run track? With, well, this?

The third time Howard asked, Carson agreed to come to practice, running and throwing alongside the team. But he didn’t tell his parents he’d even made the team until the day before the first meet. He didn’t want them to know, as JD said, that he was going to lose.

At multiple meets throughout the year, he’d huff and puff down the track and set a personal record —only to come up to Howard, disappointed. He got beat.

“The kid has a faster PR than you by far,” Howard would tell him.

But … he got beat.

“It was hard to get past that,” Carson said. “Understand that no matter how much I work, they’re probably going to be faster than me.”


Right when he’d finished chemotherapy, he came out to a football game to watch his brother Jackson, a senior, play. The home stands, Los Alamitos coming together as one, began chanting Carson’s name. But he looked down, Shannon remembered, embarrassed.

Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox sits on the field looking at the camera.
Los Alamitos long snapper Carson Fox.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Even as he’d recovered, he still didn’t want to stand out. And in track, he was adamant about competing in adaptive meets – not just wanting a participation trophy for running with the able-bodied.

“He’s like, ‘What am I [special] for, breathing? Walking over the finish line? That’s stupid,’” Shannon said. “‘If they want to call me great, it’s got to be for competing and winning.’”

After competing in track for all of a few months, he won a state championship in shotput last May and finished third in the 100-meter and 200-meter events. Lining up on the blocks at that meet, he glanced up at the crowd for a moment, seeing his family watch over him from the stands. Remembering the day, a year earlier, when they watched over his hospital bed.

And bit by bit, Carson started to accept some of the attention.

“I think he’s starting to realize how unique he is, because he went through all that and now he’s out here starting on varsity football,” teammate and friend C.J. Berthon said.


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A few months after his amputation, Carson started to reach out to other para-athletes on social media — most notably getting advice from Paralympic snowboarder Noah Elliott and Paralympic track-and-field athlete Ezra Frech. Elliott, on a phone call, gave him a wide range of information about prosthetic devices, and he trained for a day with Frech.

“It totally inspired me because they helped me so much, and I want to give back to the people that are going through what I went through,” Carson said.

He’s still going day by day as he’s settled into football season, preparing for a Southern Section Division 1 playoff quarterfinal Nov. 11 against Long Beach Poly. The eyes on his leg, sometimes, still make him uncomfortable. But when asked after a September game if he kept his prosthetic leg wrapped out of embarrassment, he shook his head.

“I would want everyone to see it,” he said.