You can’t talk about a lasting youthful impact of any young person without talking about Johnny Romano. At age 7, he had the whole skateboarding industry talking. After he passed at the tender age of 10, his legacy and the philanthropic work of his foundation lives on.



A Natural Skater

Johnny Romano was only two years old when he started learning how to skate for the first time. His older brother, Joey, who was then only four years old, found their father’s skateboard in the garage and decided to take it for a spin. The family knew that Johnny had something special as soon as he stepped on the board. While his brother would lie on his belly on the board like a surfer paddling to catch a wave, Johnny would stand on his two feet like a skater and not fall. Their father, Mike Romano, who was once a skate athlete hopeful himself, was ecstatic to see that he had passed on his love for the skateboard to his sons. 


Mike grew up in Houston where he skated every day on a half-pipe and spent the summers in Galveston surfing sbobet88 waves. He was serious enough about skateboarding that he flew out to California to compete in a contest with Tony Hawk. He would eventually leave the sport behind and marry Julie Batten, a coworker at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter at Houston Hobby Airport.


It was not long until Mike built a half-pipe for the boys. It was 24 feet long, 16 feet wide, and 4 feet tall. In the beginning, Johnny was not even able to drop in from the top of the ramp. It took Mike nailing a hockey stick a foot off the bottom to work as a ledge for Johnny to drop in and actually use the ramp. As much as Johnny was a prodigy in the sport, he was still just a kid. His legs were stiff and straight from being nervous to drop in, and his father padded him up with safety gear and the thickest skateboard helmet he could find. 


Johnny would stay on the makeshift ledge for a while but it would not hinder his progress. He kept going back and forth, up and down the wooded slopes, and learned the proper posture for skateboarding. His father would move up the makeshift ledge higher and higher until finally, Johnny could drop in from the top of the ramp.


In addition to skateboarding, Johnny was also a natural with the waves. The whole Romano family took regular trips to Galveston where the boys would go out to surf. Johnny stood on a board for the first time when he was three. 

Johnny Ramano’s War with Cancer


Johnny was growing up to be a free-spirited natural athlete. While his dad and brother are playing video games indoors, Johnny would be on the half-pipe skating. He would ask them why play a skateboard video game when they could just go outside and skateboard themselves. 


These active bursts of energy would be how they knew Johnny. This was why when Johnny started getting lethargic, pale and complained about his gums in early May 2005, his parents knew something was wrong. They went to a dentist to get his gums checked but nothing came up. It was only when Johnny complained that he “felt wobbly at school” in late May that they took him to a doctor who immediately drew a blood test. From there he was asked to go to the Texas Children’s Hospital. He had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL,) the most common form of childhood cancer. If left untreated, he would have died in only a couple of weeks.  


At the hospital, the blood test results were that cancer had struck Johnny in his bone marrow. His immature white blood cells were rapidly multiplying and were at the risk of crowing out his mature white and red blood cells and platelets, which could then spill over into his bloodstream and spread into his organs. His doctors put him in the standard risk category with a 70 percent chance of surviving. 


The plan was seven months of weekly chemo and three years of monthly maintenance treatment. His platelets and red blood cells would be replaced by transfusions, but his white blood cells had to grow back naturally themselves. 


Between chemo injections, blood tests, transfusions, bone marrow biopsies, and spinal taps, Johnny had every reason in the world to cry and complain but that just wasn’t Johnny. Instead, he had tears well up in his eyes in anticipation of the treatments, hide in his mother’s lap, but then pop back up and use his IV pole to skate in the hallways of the hospital. While lying in his bed waiting for a transfusion, he would use his fingers to play with his four-inch Tech Deck. The hospital staff were amazed with his courage.

Little Ripper, Big Waves


In late June, Johnny was finally strong enough to go swimming in their neighborhood pool. It was a great step towards getting to play outside again, but the doctors had advised “nothing with wheels.” Johnny could not afford to get injured. It would only allow life-threatening infections. The chemo still also affected how he walked and balanced himself. Skating, to his annoyance, was still not on the table. 


It was only in August of that year that Julie finally relented and took him to the park near their home. He may have been sick but his ability on the board could have easily convinced you otherwise. Mike bought a new board for him and started taking him to the Houston skate park during his lunchbreaks.


In November 2005, Johnny was invited to the Texas Skate Jam for a Make-a-Wish in Houston’s Southside Skatepark. The event aimed to raise money for kids with life-threatening medical conditions. Johnny was not going to sit this one down- literally. 



When Kenny Anderson from the Adio team handed him a new board, he used it to skate. Johnny had no hair, he had not skated in two weeks, and he was weak and uncoordinated from the chemo. Despite this, he was high in the air landing front side 360’s as the pro skaters around him watched. 


He was introduced to a teenager named Heath Cherryhomes and they skated together for hours. By the end of the event, Johnny was a name on the lips of the best skaters in the world. 


Jim Thiebaud, former Thrasher Magazine cover boy and one of the most famous San Francisco skate punks in the eighties rang up Mike after meeting Johnny at the event. “Would it make Johnny feel better if he had his own board? With his name on it?” he asked. Mike chuckled and gave an exasperated yes. Jim ran Deluxe Distribution, a company that made Real Skateboards and Spitfire Wheels so had no problem creating a board with a Johnny Romano logo. 


It was supposed to be a just-for-show one-off. Two decks were sent to Johnny and one was taken to a skateboard show. But because of the overwhelmingly positive response, the design was recreated by a hundredfold, and proceeds from the sales would go to Make-A-Wish. Johnny was subsequently named a member of the Real Skateboarding team. At the time, this made him the youngest professional skateboarder in the industry. 

In January 2006, he started the final phase of his therapy. If he could make it through the three years of his maintenance chemo, he would be in the clear. He would visit the clinic every week for treatment, and every month he would have a spinal tap. Anytime anyone would ask Johnny about his treatment however, he brushes it off and talks about what he wants to talk about: skateboarding. He was at least nominally a pro skater so he wanted to be known as the boy with the skateboard rather than the boy with cancer. 


More and more, this was coming to fruition. Out in the world, people were wearing Johnny Romano shirts. Johnny was invited to the X-Games and met his favorite surfer, Rob Machado, who also invited him onstage when he was inducted into the Surfer’s Hall of Fame. The following summer, Real Skateboarding released a new version of the Johnny Romano board. Adio also started making Johnny Romano shoes. Fuel TV hired Johnny to be its roving correspondent and interview the pros. 


The Romanos moved to Galvestone permanently at this stage which allowed Johnny to surf and skate more. He had regained a lot of the weight he lost during chemo and was right on track to beating cancer. He was doing so well that the doctors even upped the chemo dosage during the final nine-month push, hoping to destroy every leukemic blast.

A fight Til the End

In 2008, Johnny had a relapse. It wasn’t unexpected- he has been feeling weak and falling asleep at school. Leukemia has returned and it has learned to evade the chemo. An urgent bone marrow transplant was the only way.


That weekend, Mike and Julie threw a big party with all of Johnny’s friends at the local paintball field. On Sunday, Julie received permission to allow Johnny to skate the unopened new park. They knew it would be the last time in a long time that he was going to be on a board.


Johnny received messages from skaters in Italy, France, Brazil, China, Australia, and Mexico while in the hospital. Pro skaters in the likes of Tony Hawk, Jason Ellis, Kevin Staab visited Johnny. US Army Soldiers in Iraq sent on photos of them holding up a sign that read “We’re fighting for you Johnny Romano! Keep fighting for us! Get well soon!” Steve Cabellero, Chris Cole, Paul Rodriguez, Jr., and Ryan Sheckler took to film words of encouragement, asking Johnny to ‘keep the faith’ and ‘get well so we can go rip!’


By early August, the doctors concluded that Johnny’s ALL had evolved into a stronger, more lethal acute myeloid leukemia (AML.) Johnny fought infection after infection and even survived a hurricane that devastated his town, but he never gave up. He kept on refusing “comfort care” and endured the pain of stronger chemo and morphine. On September 23, he quietly passed away from complications related to his AML. 


Two months later, the Texas Skate Jam For Make-A-Wish was renamed “The Johnny Romano Skate Jam for Make-A-Wish.” The first installment raised $103,000. These contests still continue and raise money today. The Rock the Cradle for Johnny Romano annual contest was also created in memoriam and raises money for fighting cancer. 



Today, Johnny lives on through the love of his parents and siblings and as a symbol of hope and strength. Mike and Julie created the JohnnyKicksCancer Foundation, an organization that aims to increase awareness and fund for research about childhood leukemia.  All of us need to learn how to not worry about the small drama of life.  The secret is to live a life of thankfulness, but also have goals, dreams, and ambition, and count our blessings every day. None of us are promised tomorrow, so make the best of today.   PS  Tell the people you love, that you love them!





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