As a father, a husband, and 49ers Faithful from Indiana, J.R. Harlan symbolizes the All-American family man with a passion for football. As a cancer survivor and fighter, he symbolizes hope and inspiration. In 2002, J.R. was faced with one of the most shocking and toughest battles one could ever face in life—he was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, usually affecting those over the age of 50, yet at a young 22 years old, J.R. was in the fight of his life. He faced it with every fiber of strength, and persevered, leaving him cancer free for the next five years of his life.
In 2007, the cancer returned. This time around, J.R. stood as a proud father of twin girls, Brianne and Alyssa, and with wife Angela by his side. He was determined to overcome the weaknesses such a disease may instill upon someone and continue living a life of optimism and strength. Through the partnership of the Dream Foundation and the San Francisco 49ers, J.R. was able to wish for anything in the world. J.R.'s dream was to have his family travel to San Francisco for an once-in-a-lifetime trip to watch the family's favorite team play their hometown defenders. Within weeks, the Harlans were flying to San Francisco, California to join the 49ers for practice, a game, and the opportunity to meet the men in red and gold.
One Friday afternoon, J.R. and his family arrived at the 49ers Training Facility welcomed by 49ers Community Relations representative Heather Curry, who also serves as the Co-Chair of the Greater Bay Area Make-A-Wish Young Professional Advisory Council.
"The 49ers truly believe in the power of a wish fulfilled. It is a pleasure for our organization to have the opportunity to host the Harlans and help make J.R.'s dream come true," stated Heather.
After being greeted with 49ers gifts and tickets to Sunday's matchup against the Indianapolis Colts, The Harlan's soaked up the scenery of the new Levi's Stadium just outside 49ers Headquarters. Inside, they explored the home of five Vince Lombardi trophies, Super Bowl rings, and 49ers Hall of Fame jerseys before heading out to the 49ers practice field and training facility. J.R. watched the team run through what they would bring to life on the field in just a few days as he enjoyed a 49ers practice with his family by his side. After a plethora of 49ers players and coaches swarmed the Harlans with photos, autographs, and genuine conversations, day one of J.R.'s adventure concluded.
"Meeting the players, watching practice and seeing the everyday stuff they go through has been awesome," said J.R. of his experience at the 49ers Training Facility, "Their gracious and personable approach to taking a few minutes to support us is both refreshing and admirable."
Day two of the dream was game day and J.R. and Angela took to the field for a front row view of pregame warm-ups. Capturing every moment with wide eyes and a camera lens, the powerhouse duo of the Harlan family took in the thrill of being on the sidelines before heading to their seats to watch their hometown take on their favorites of the Golden State.
"Seeing how happy J.R. has been this weekend has been amazing," expressed Angela, "To share an experience like this with our family has been especially memorable."
J.R.'s visit to San Francisco did not end when the clock ran out in the fourth quarter. His interactions with the team, coaches, and with the 49ers front office left an impact which will last for a lifetime. For J.R., his trip was a wish—it was an escape from everyday impediments, and a reminder that his strength goes beyond the field. For those who had the pleasure of meeting J.R., his visit was a rewarding reminder of the results of determination, reflection and being grateful, as well as all one can accomplish with a mindset of positive will.
J.R. Harlan's wish fulfillment was made possible through the partnership of the 49ers and The Dream Foundation. For more information on The Dream Foundation, please visit: http://www.dreamfoundation.org/
To see more 49ers experiences like J.R.'s, check out: http://www.49ers.com/community/wish-fulfillment.html