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Musial Awards celebrate kindness and sportsmanship

The Musial Awards are set for Saturday night at the Stifel Theater. Athletes and coaches from all over North America are coming to St. Louis to be honored.

ST. LOUIS — The newest Musial Award winners will be celebrated at the Stifel Theater on Saturday night. As we look forward to this incredible night, here's a story we did in 2014 which gives you a good idea of why they call this the most meaningful night in sports.

In Florida, the land of sand and sunshine, Some ride the waves and others make their own.

Josh Zuchowski, 10, is one of the top young swimmers in the country.

"I like it because it's a sport that you can swim with a team and it's individual," Josh said smiling.

When he was just 8, he finaled in six out of seven events at the Junior Olympics.

"At that point, he was the fastest 8-year-old in the history of the sport in south Florida, "his dad Jonathan Zuchowski tells us.

And no one is more impressed with his talent than the Coach of his swim team-the Jupiter Dragons.

"However it's not just talent," explained Kiril Zahariev. "He's a hard-worker. A very focused swimmer."

Practicing six and sometimes seven days a week, he's as present in the backyard pool as the chlorine.

"Because hard work always beats talent any day," said Josh.

Still, as good as Josh is, there's one swimmer he's always looked up to.

"I would be like wow I want to be like him when I get older," said Josh.

Reese Branzell is a year older than Josh, and like Josh, he's been breaking long-standing records.

"At 8 he was doing the Junior Olympics and he was swimming against 10-year-olds, "explains Derek Branzell, Reese's dad.

When Josh isn't in the pool, he likes to be on the side of it watching Reese.

"When my mom said 'There's this little kid named Josh Zuckowski. He looks up to you like a hero almost,'" Reese recalled. "So I was surprised that anyone would look up to me."

But by the spring of 2013, instead of just looking up to Reese, he was standing next him on the starting blocks. Thus began a very special rivalry.

"They would race against each other and it was good. Reese would win. Josh would win. It was very competitive," remembers Jonathan Zuchowski.

"Their competitive level with the two of them they just drove each other," added Derek.

Then with the season winding down, Josh showed up for one of the biggest swim meets of the year but someone was missing. That someone was Reese.

"He randomly started complaining one day about his hip hurting and he started limping," recalled Reese's mom LeAnn Elder

Reese had been admitted to the hospital and he'd be there for the better part of the next five weeks. The diagnosis, something called Osteomyletis, an infection of the hip. Doctors tried one anti-biotic after another and nothing seemed to work.

"He looked at me and he said Dad am I going to die?" Derek recalled. "You don't expect that from a 9- or 10-year-old kid and it like crushed me."

Then something happened to lift his spirits.

Though Reese wasn't on the starting block, he was on Josh's mind.

"How would you feel if you were in the hospital?" Josh asked. "Would you feel bad or would you feel good?"

So, Josh did something few 9-year-olds would ever even think of. He dedicated his next race to Reese and went out and won yet another first-place trophy.

Then, a few hours later Reese got a phone call in his hospital room that someone had dropped off a trophy at his house.

"I as a grown man on the phone I choked up," Derek says. "Tears in my eyes. I was speechless for a while."

With the trophy was a get well card signed by Josh. Months later, Reese still has it and he read the final paragraph for us.

"I would rather get second with you at the meet than win with you absent. I won this trophy for you today. I hope to see you back in the pool. Your friend Josh."

Reese has recovered and the rivalry has resumed but it has far more meaning than it ever had before.

"The fact that Josh thought of my son before he thought of himself meant a lot," said Elder.

"It served as an example that swimming is not everything," added Zahariev. "Life is bigger than swimming."  

"It gives you hope that there is still hope," Derek told us.

One young boy showing that kids can be as deceiving as a swimming pool. You never know how deep they really are.

For more information go to MusialAwards.com

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