TRI-TAYLOR — From 2011 to 2012, five of Christopher Triplett's family members, including his father, died.
And for most of last year, Triplett — a senior at Chicago Hope Academy — took care of his mother while she was being treated for stomach cancer.
It's enough awful news to break many teenagers, but Triplett persevered.
"I always try to exude joy even in a bad situation because you have to make the best of it," said Triplett, of Austin.
His mother's cancer is in remission now, and Triplett is scheduled to graduate June 1. He's been accepted to Northern Illinois University, where his studies will be geared toward becoming a physical therapist. At Hope, he holds a 3.3 grade point average and has been a standout athlete on the football, track and field, and club rugby teams.
Throughout his time at the small Christian school, Triplett has remained positive despite the difficult circumstances surrounding him.
"I have never seen Triplett not in some sort of good mood," said Matt McReynolds, the school's assistant athletic director, head track coach and assistant football coach.
"It comes from a sense of understanding that you don't have control of maybe the things that happen to you, but you can control how you respond," said McReynolds, of Humboldt Park. "He's taken 100 percent control of that."
When Triplett was applying to colleges across the country, he included a letter describing the many tragedies in his life since 2011. That year, heart attacks claimed the lives of his aunt Rose and uncles Perry and Chuck.
In 2012, his father, George, died from throat cancer. A few months later, his paternal grandmother, Clarissa, died from the effects of a stroke.
"It was kind of crazy, one after another," Triplett, 18, said. "But at the same time, at least they weren't suffering, and they were up in heaven, looking over me."
Triplett is the youngest of five siblings — the oldest is 45 — and when his mom, Shirley Rogers-Triplett, received the news early last year she had stomach cancer, Triplett became a de facto caretaker.
After school, he washed her clothes, cleaned the outside of their house, went shopping for groceries and prepared meals that rotated between Hamburger Helper, mashed potatoes, macaroni and Home Run Inn pizzas. His mother's favorite is bone-in chicken and rice, which he made in a skillet with butter, a touch of oil, lemon pepper, salt and pepper.
"Chris is my baby and he took care of his mother," said Rogers-Triplett, 60, a Dunbar High School graduate.
By the start of the 2003 football season, Rogers-Triplett's condition had started to improve. Posing for a photo at homecoming late in the campaign, she and her son smiled with joy because of his accomplishments as an Eagles captain on the offensive and defensive lines — and because her cancer had gone into full remission.
Throughout the ordeal, Triplett never complained, said Eagles junior David Bauer, who played alongside him on both sides of the line.
"My heart really went out to him with what he was going through," said Bauer, of Wheaton. "But he did a great job of balancing taking care of her with his homework and playing football."
Triplett has balanced his hours well this spring as well. He splits his time between track — where he runs the 200 meters and throws the discus and shot put — and rugby, where he's slotted as a flanker. He also participated on the school's robotics team — the Binklebots — which was part of the FIRST Robotics Competition at the UIC Pavilion earlier this month.
"When you have a guy like Triplett, he stands out," said McReynolds, who always refers to the senior by his last name. "He's a shoot-for-the-stars, land-on-the-moon type of guy."
Triplett is pumped for NIU and noted he plans to have his own physical therapy business within a year or two after graduating from DeKalb.
Life so far, he said, has had "its ups and downs, but it's also taught me how to be successful."
"I want to help people," Triplett said. "I've been through a lot, but I'm very motivated."
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