COLUMBIA — Blake Merson loved professional wrestling and always had a smile on his face.
One of his recent assignments for his fourth-grade class was a map of each person's dreams for the future.
His teacher, Kristin Nies, said he designed his dream map as a wrestling ring. He drew a crowd surrounding the empty ring holding signs with what he wanted to do with his life.
The signs read: be a professional wrestler, be a professional basketball player, go to Raging Rivers WaterPark, go to Toronto, Canada, go to New York, learn to fly a helicopter, go skydiving, get a rottweiler, learn kung fu and build a wrestling ring.
Blake died Thursday, May 5, 2011, of pneumonia and a strep bacteria that affected the blood. He was 10.
Blake battled cancer and won at an early age, gaining from it a maturity and positive outlook on life that his parents and friends said made him as unique as his intense love for professional wrestling.
Blake was born on Aug. 29, 2000, in Rolla to Rob and Laura (Simpson) Merson. He was diagnosed with cancer at nine weeks old and spent the first four years of life in and out of St. Louis Children's Hospital. After a year and a half of chemotherapy, he went into remission for almost a year before having a relapse.
During his second round of treatment he had a bone marrow transplant and had his spleen removed. The lack of a spleen meant that his body couldn’t fight the strep bacteria the way it normally would.
Professional wrestling fan
Blake loved professional wrestling. From an early age, he was often found with a wrestling T-shirt on and a toy wrestler in his hand, his dad said. His artwork was all about wrestling, too. He had a notebook where he’d write down matches and his friends would act them out while he recorded them on his mom’s digital camera.
For school one day, each student was supposed to dress up like a famous Missourian. Blake came as WWE wrestler and St. Louis native Randy Orton, his dad said.
“I’ve never seen a bigger fan in my entire life,” Rob Merson said of his son.
"The second he learned to walk, he was doing dives off the couch," said his mom, describing when he first started wrestling. "He turned the trampoline into a wrestling ring."
Being in and out of the hospital for the first four years of his life made him mature for his age, said Blake’s dad. He added that people described Blake as a little adult and an old soul.
“He could understand and play with kids, but he could also sit with adults and understand their jokes,” Laura Merson said.
“He was a kid, but he had a unique quality about him. He was able to see the world through a different lens,” Nies said. “You could sit down with him as an adult and have a fascinating coversation.”
When Blake saw his mom crying during his cancer treatments, he would comfort her by saying, “Mom, it’s going to be OK,” Laura Merson said.
When his mom found out Blake’s brother Zach was stillborn, Blake was there. He was eight at the time.
"He stepped up and was like a little man," his mom said. "It was amazing. He cried for a minute and then straightened up and asked the doctor how this would affect me."
When his great-grandma Gerri Potter died last December, Blake comforted his dad, saying, “You know dad, she lived a good long life. Right now she’s in heaven taking care of Zach for us.” Blake wanted to be a pallbearer like his dad for the funeral and was the last one to take his hand off her casket, Rob Merson said.
He loved his 7-year-old sister Alyssa and was protective of her, said Laura Merson.
"They would fight and fight and then turn around and love on each other. But if anyone else picked on her, they were in trouble."
“He had a drive about him,” Rob Merson said. “Nothing would keep him down. He always had a smile on his face, even during chemotherapy. He naturally drew people to him.”
Blake played basketball for the first time this past year. After the first practice, he wanted to quit, but his dad convinced him to stick with it. Because of his health issues, Blake had never been able to participate much in sports and was shorter than the other players.
“By the third-to-last week he was under the rim, dribbling to pass,” Rob Merson said. “I hollered at him to shoot it. It was like one of those movie scenes. The ball rolled around the rim twice before it went in. I thought the roof was going to explode with the applause he got.”
“He used to say, ‘I kicked cancer’s butt, I can do anything,’” Laura Merson said. “(The strep) kind of sucker-punched him. It didn’t give him a fair fight.”
He would have beat it otherwise, like he did the cancer, his mom said.
“No matter the subject, Blake was always on top of it, doing top-notch work,” Nies said. “He was always happy, always smiling, always doing his best.”
Blake's grandparents, Bob and Sandra Merson, said they admired his strength.
"The hurdles he overcame in his short life would have caused most to give up," said Bob Merson.
Blake’s dad said that even though they moved to Columbia right before Blake started kindergarten, he was quick to make friends.
“By the end of the first week of school, all the kids were saying hi to him in Walmart,” Rob Merson said. “Even when we moved to a new neighborhood, kids of all ages came up to the house and asked if Blake could come out and play.”
“He could walk in a place and leave with 10 friends,” Laura Merson said. “He had a really full life for 10 years.”
Blake is survived by his parents; his sisters, Alyssa Merson and Kayla Sitzes, all of Columbia; his grandparents, Bob and Sandra Merson of Rolla, Bob and Judy Beedles of Prescott Valley, Ariz., and Steve and Malena Simpson of Spring Hill, Fla.; his great-grandfather, David Potter Sr. of Rolla; 14 aunts and uncles and 15 cousins, all from northeast and mid-Missouri; and friends from Paxton Keeley Elementary, Upward Basketball and St. Louis Children's Hospital.
His brother, Zach Merson, and his great-grandmother, Gerri Potter, died earlier.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 14, at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W., with a visitation and reception to follow.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The Blake Merson Memorial Fund through any U.S. Bank.
Online condolences can be posted at memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.