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Ordinarily extraordinary: Negaunee’s Erik Salminen takes role on football field in stride despite multiple brain surgeries

Negaunee's Erik Salminen, top left, hauls in a pass from quarterback Jason Waterman (not pictured) for a touchdown against Ishpeming on Sept. 27 at the Miners field. Defending for the Hematites are Tanner Romback, bottom left, and John Corkin. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

“I’ve never really thought of myself as ‘courageous,’ as they put it. It’s kind of an everyday thing for me.” — Erik Salminen, football, basketball, tennis and soccer player, Negaunee High School

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NEGAUNEE — Adversity is something all of us have had to deal with at some point in our lives. Those who persevere through that adversity come out stronger than before.

One local athlete who’s had his share of adversity is Erik Salminen, a senior at Negaunee High School and multisport athlete for the Miners.

Back in late October at the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association’s annual football meeting, Salminen was named the recipient of the Gil Heard Courageous Athlete Award. The award is named after the late Gil Heard, who served as the sports information director at Northern Michigan University for 23 years. Heard is also a U.P. Sports Hall of Fame inductee from 1990.

Negaunee's Erik Salminen gets instructions before a kickoff from head coach Paul Jacobson (not pictured) during a game against Ishpeming played on Sept. 27 at the Miners field. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

The award is presented annually by the UPSSA to a high school athlete who has demonstrated great courage in overcoming disabilities or other hardships in achieving athletic excellence.

Salminen spent his winter months playing for the Miners boys basketball team and if given the chance with coronavirus situation, will play tennis this spring. He also ran track in middle school and plays soccer in the summer.

He has faced hardships since his first year of life, when doctors discovered a brain tumor they attempted to remove at the time.

“My parents brought me in because I was having headaches and crying a lot,” he said about his father Scott and mother Katie. “The doctor diagnosed me with a brain tumor at 10 months old. They removed it right away, but then the surgery caused an infection in my head, so I was in the hospital for about three months after that.”

All was good for the next several years of his life until 2014, when the tumor returned.

“Through-out my life I’ve been dealing with headaches and neck pains daily,” he said. “The tumor came back in 2014 and (it) had to be removed again. And two years ago in 2018, on my 16th birthday, it had to be removed one more time.”

It might not seem possible for Salminen to play football with his medical condition, and he primarily served as the Miners’ kicker before being cleared by his doctor last season to play other positions and go through full contact.

Before being given the “all-clear,” Salminen usually had to run straight off the field after kickoffs to minimize contact through tackling, according to his father.

One of his favorite moments on the football field was a game-winning, 27-yard field goal as time expired in a game versus Hancock during the 2018 season, giving the Miners a 30-28 victory and their first win of the season.

His other favorite moment came last fall in Negaunee’s homecoming game against Ishpeming, the first game he was cleared for contact.

Salminen played wide receiver that night, racking up 202 receiving yards and three touchdowns that helped propel the Miners to a 40-20 victory over their next-door rival.

“That was pretty memorable playing wide receiver for the first time,” he said.

Despite the complications throughout his life, Salminen said he never let the adversity slow him down.

“You kind of get used to it after awhile,” he said. “It wasn’t pushing me back or anything. I knew how to deal with it so I’d always try to catch it right away.”

Salminen will graduate from NHS in the spring and plans to attend college to study neuroscience with aspirations to become a neurologist one day.

As far as the Gil Heard Courageous Athlete Award goes, Salminen called it an honor but remained as humble as he’s always been.

“It feels pretty great,” he said. “I’ve never really thought of myself as ‘courageous,’ as they put it. It’s kind of an everyday thing for me, so I never really thought of it as so extraordinary.”

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.

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