TroyStrong and the Bison Gunslinger

By Jon Konen

During this holiday time of year we wanted to highlight just one of the many acts of kindness that our town can be proud of, not because it makes us the best, but because it shows our character and the type of people who make up this community.

Blake Thelen’s biggest fan might also be his smallest. The Great Falls Bison football team made the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade behind the leadership of head coach Mark Samson and the talents of their 6-foot-4 senior quarterback. The Bison’s main gunslinger, Thelen is one of the best quarterbacks in Montana football this year and has been noticed by many college recruiters. Four-year-old Troy Ross is noticing this gunslinger as well. Thelen took time out of his busy schedule to spend an afternoon playing football with Troy. The charisma that Thelen presents is remarkable while the beauty lies in the purity of why he spent time with his number one fan — he simply wanted to do it.

The relationship doesn’t stop there. Troy has been at practices and coin tosses to get to know Blake and his teammates and be part of this special Bison team. Troy is the son of Bison Assistant Coach Wes Ross and fourth-grade Riverview teacher Callie Ross. He has a big sister, Kennedy. Troy loves sports, and his favorite teams are the Great Falls High School Bison and the University of Montana Grizzlies.

In 2017, Troy was life-flighted to Seattle Children’s Hospital and diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening autoimmune disease called pulmonary capillaritis. Only eight people in the United States have this condition which causes his immune system to attack his lungs.

The #TroyStrong movement started as doctors worked to save his life. People across the state donated blood. More than half of Troy’s blood had to be replaced and the plasma found in blood helped make the medicine needed to save him. Troy faces a life of constant doctor appointments, check-ins and treatments and his recovery will be a long, tedious journey for this family.

This fall, the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Great Falls High Bison granted Troy his wish, which included leading the team on the field in his own Bison uniform and a trip to Disney World to meet his all-time favorite, Mickey Mouse. He will spend six nights and seven days at Give Kids the World in Orlando.

When catastrophic events occur, our community steps up because Great Falls cares. Many fundraisers have been held to support the Ross family, and you can be a part of this little partner’s journey by donating blood at any blood drive, donating to the #TroyStrong cause or simply by sharing this story of kindness for this little gunslinger.