EAGLE — It’s uncommon to find an 11-year-old as dedicated to a cause as Jensen Rawlings is.
Jensen’s cause is helping people with cancer. He started growing his hair long since age 8 and finally cut it on his 11th birthday Oct. 11 to donate to Locks of Love. Locks of Love is a nonprofit that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children in the United States and Canada younger than 21 suffering from long-term medical hair loss.
“I will grow my hair out again to donate,” Jensen said. “I held back from cutting it for the last three years because I didn’t want it to be too short.”
Jensen’s mom, Heather Rawlings, said his first charity hair-cutting was for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation in which participants have their heads shaved to raise money.
“He didn’t like the way he looked with a bald head,” Heather said.
By donating to Locks of Love, Jensen can keep most of his hair. It’s now about chin-length.
“I don’t think it will take me as long to grow it out again, since I started growing it out from a shaved head the first time,” he said.
Power of friendship
The driving force behind his charity is his close friend Finn Rooney. Finn is also 11 and survived a long bout with leukemia that started when he was 3, right about the time the boys first met.
“The boys have known each other since they were 3 and played hockey together,” said Finn’s mom, Natalie Rooney.
Finn has been cancer free since August 2012 and continues to go to yearly checkups. He was with Jensen when he had his hair cut at Adagio Salon in Eagle.
“Finn’s face was like this when she held the scissors up to cut his hair!” said Jensen’s older brother, Porter Rawlings, who made a face with a gaping mouth and bugging eyes.
“Jensen didn’t cry when his hair was cut, but I did,” Heather said. “For a kid to dedicate three years to something and follow through when push comes to shove really amazed me. His hair has been a big part of his identity.”
Long hair can be tough to manage for so long, too.
“I don’t know if adults know what a pain it is to grow your hair that long, especially as a kid,” Natalie said.
‘What are you doing?’
Jensen’s dad, Michael Rawlings, said his son also got used to being teased and confused for a girl.
“When kids teased him at school, he would tell them, ‘I’m growing my hair for people who have cancer. What are you doing?’” Michael said.
“They never had much of a response to that,” Jensen said.
Cancer has touched Jensen’s life in other ways besides Finn.
“His uncle died of leukemia when he was 3 and my grandfather now has stomach cancer,” Heather said. “Cancer is a disease that has affected our family quite a bit.”
Both Jensen and Finn were too young to vividly remember Finn’s ordeal with surgeries and chemotherapy, but it has certainly been on their minds more than most other kids their age.
“Fortunately, Finn only seems to remember the good stuff like charity events and not the trauma,” Natalie said. “He is very aware of the different things people do to help people with cancer. He said, ‘People call me a hero for beating cancer, but the doctors and nurses and other people are heroes, too.’”
These days, Finn looks like any other kid.
“His beautiful red hair grew back and you would never know he was sick,” Natalie said. “For the most part he can do anything other kids can do, except for some things like the bench press.”
Jensen’s hair was mailed to Locks of Love Wednesday.
“This will be my first hockey practice without long hair — my helmet is going to feel weird,” he said.