ATHENS, Ga. — There's a Valley connection to Monday night's College Football Playoff National Championship that you may not realize.
The University of Georgia Bulldogs and their fans have rallied around a former Friday Night Fever star and his mom as she goes through one of the toughest battles of her life: fighting breast cancer.
Former Saguaro Sabercat Kelee Ringo is one of the leaders of the Bulldog defense in his first year starting in Athens.
Right behind the bench is his mom, Tralee Hale, who is his #1 fan, and they both fell that no matter if Georgia wins the national title or if they lose to Alabama, they have already won.
"Kelee is my best friend," Hale said.
Only one thing brings out a huge amount of joy in Hale: watching her son play football.
"I'm his biggest cheerleader," Hale said. "I'm his biggest fan. When little kids were walking around with stuffed animals, he was walking around with a football and was sleeping with it."
Kelee and Tralee's journey together started with a move-in with mom in high school. A few years at Saguaro turned Kelee into the No. 1 defensive back in the nation and earned him a full-ride scholarship to Georgia.
But freshman year was tough for mother and son.
"A week after Kelee left, cancer had a different story," Hale said.
Just days after Kelee reported to Georgia in June 2020, Tralee was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. At the same time, Kelee was diagnosed with a season-ending shoulder injury.
"I was so weak and my son was having surgery and I just, I don't even know how I found the energy, I went and got on an airplane," Hale said.
Tough chemo treatments came with unimaginable pain, but that didn't stop Tralee from traveling across the country to take care of her son.
"I got to the hospital and stayed there and took care of him," Hale said. "The nurses were nice enough to come and bring me some chicken noodle soup. We were just both in a predicament."
While Kelee made a full recovery, Tralee's fight was much tougher. Much of this past year has been filled with doctor visits, chemo treatments, surgeries and complications.
"I'm on the last 400 (meters) of the race and I feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel," Hale said. "And I am just so blessed and thankful to be getting through it."
Both mother and son returning to the field this season. In October, the Bulldogs hosted their breast cancer awareness game at Sanford Stadium when the Bulldogs took on Kentucky (and won 30-13). Tralee was front and center.
"Often times, I wear my hair red and black, so that's kind of hard to miss," Hale said. "If anybody sees that, they know who. Allow me to shout out Bulldog nation and Go Dawgs! They took such good care of me."
Tralee is so close to being cancer-free and her son is one win away from a national championship.
"He's worked so hard to get here," Hale said. "We have this saying, 'Same team' that we say to each other. Yes, we definitely stick together."
Bulldog nation has also helped Tralee out with some medical expenses, raising more than $50,000 though a GoFundMe. If everything goes according to plan, she should be cancer-free in the next couple of months.