Hunter Leavitt and Adrian Peterson have embodied perseverance.
Hunter has been a Vikings fan since birth. The young man from Marcus, Iowa, has battled cystic fibrosis for nearly the same amount of time.
Just prior to turning 20 years old, Hunter was able to step into the Vikings huddle the day before they defeated the Chargers and meet his favorite player, Peterson, thanks to a request submitted through the **Make-A-Wish** Foundation.
The 2012 NFL MVP visited with Hunter and his parents, Tom and Becky Leavitt, for about half an hour inside the Winter Park fieldhouse. Hunter and Peterson talked about their love for the sport, their losses of older brothers in vehicular accidents and perseverance through medical conditions and injuries.
**Cystic fibrosis** affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 Americans and 70,000 people worldwide. It is complex, has varying degrees of severity, and at this point, no cure has been discovered.
The Leavitt family said they are grateful for all the support the town of about 1,100 has provided over the years as Hunter has faced such a tough challenge.
In order to manage the symptoms, Hunter wears a "percussion machine twice a day for 30 minutes and then inhales medicine and about 40 pills a day."
"It's difficult, but I guess I'm really lucky," Hunter said during an interview for Vikings: Beyond the Gridiron. "There are some people that have it way worse than I do, but just as long as I keep doing all my treatments, it really helps."
Becky said Hunter has stayed determined since being diagnosed when he was 3 months old.
"He kind of knows no other than the things he has to do," Becky said. "With two siblings, there were times when they were done with what they needed to do and could run out the door and Hunter had to stay and finish his treatments. There's been hard times where he's had to be in the hospital and miss out on school things. The hospital is not fun, but he always hangs in there and is very strong and tough. We get through it together."
Added Tom: "It kind of stinks once in a while, because I know he couldn't do all the things he wanted to do, but he's always found a way to get around that."
The twice daily sessions and overwhelming doses of medicine can be a grind, but Hunter perseveres. In talking with Peterson, Hunter learned there were times when the running back battled through mental and physical barriers while rehabbing the torn ACL he suffered in 2011.
"It was really meaningful," Hunter said of the conversation he had with Peterson. "Sometimes I don't want to do my treatments because it gets in the way of what I'm doing, like if I'm at a family get-together and have to stop hanging around people because I have to do my vest or something, but no matter what, you've got to keep going and do what you've got to do."
Peterson told Hunter he remembered telling his father that he would return from the injury better than before.
"I feel like it was more of me switching my mind instead of beating myself up or feeling sorry for myself, I made that change in my mind," Peterson explained. "Were there ups and downs? There were times when I was lying in bed and did not feel like doing the rehab.
"I kept going back," Peterson added. "I worked extremely hard and pushed hard. There were times I was doing three workouts a day."
Tom could relate to that story from watching his son.
"I'm very proud of Hunter. He's had a lot more challenges than a lot of kids do and just takes it in stride and it's kind of like Adrian said when he was going to where he injured his knee and had to get his mind right," Tom said. "I've watched that so many times with Hunter. They've said he's got to go into the hospital and do something else, I can just see him, it takes a day or two for him to get his mind right. I see that same determination that Adrian was talking about. That was a very good message."
Four years ago, the Leavitt family suffered the loss of Hunter's older brother, Sawyer, in a car accident.
Becky could recall her sons in Vikings onesies, and how they traveled from Iowa to attend past Vikings games. She knows about the team because Hunter son loves it so greatly. She said it was "amazing" to see him in the team huddle.
"That was a big moment for him," Becky said. "To see Adrian coming toward him was a major moment."
Sawyer and Hunter bonded deeply over the Vikings and cheering for Peterson, who also lost an older brother during his youth. Hunter said he tries to live like Sawyer is watching and felt like his brother was with him.
"I guess I think about him every day. I try to do the best that I can," Hunter said. "Ever since I lost him, I knew that I wanted to meet Adrian."