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John Harte / Special to The Californian

Bakersfield Condors host Stockton Thunder hockey... Nathan Garcia, the critically ill 12-year-old Bakersfield boy whose story of friendship with USC quarterback Cody Kessler and other members of the Trojan football team has touched hearts in Bakersfield and Los Angeles, was the guest of honor at Sunday's game. He is at right with his mom and dad, Jessica and Michael, and Condors president Matthew Riley.

Despite Stage 4 terminal brain cancer that has left 12-year-old Nathan Garcia of Bakersfield unable to speak and barely able to move, he and his family aren't about to quit living.

That attitude -- to live life to its fullest -- brought the Garcia family and close friends to Rabobank Arena on Sunday, where the terminally ill youngster was given a "Spirit of Condorstown" award during the first intermission of the game against the Stockton Thunder.

Garcia has became a bit of a celebrity of late for his unselfish desire to help others -- asking that a toy drive for other sick children be organized for his 13th birthday Dec. 17. A birthday, doctors have told his parents, Nathan may not make.

"He's really weak," Garcia's father, Michael, said, "but he's actually improved a little since Monday. Our slogan is, "fight like a kid," because no one fights harder than kids and that's what he's doing."

A big USC fan, Nathan has been befriended by Bakersfield's Cody Kessler, a USC redshirt freshman quarterback. That friendship has led to hours of visiting by Kessler over the past couple of weeks, a phone call form USC coach Lane Kiffin and phone calls from numerous other USC players.

"Cody comes to the house, hangs out with him for two, two-and-half hours," Garcia said. "He's had dinner with us, breakfast. His father and mother, Don and Christie, did an amazing job raising that young man.

"I told him don't feel obligated that you have to come and spend time with him. He said this young man has touched his heart."

And Sunday, Nathan Garcia touched the heart of Condors players.

Nathan, whose last Condors game was a Teddy Bear toss in 2010 -- before he was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2011 -- was the guest of honor in the Condors locker room just moments before the team took to the ice.

Nathan was greeted outside the room by coach Matt O'Dette, who thanked him for coming, then led him and his family to a sanctuary in which few outsiders are allowed to venture.

With his father guiding him around the room in a wheelchair, Nathan was able to muster the strength to raise his left hand enough for gentle fist bumps.

Three-quarters of the way through the room, Levi Nelson gave him a fist pump, then handed him his stick, which Garcia clutched tightly to his body.

"I now he doesn't show it much but he does appreciate it," Michael said of his son meeting the players. "When you see his eyes, that's his expression, when his eyes get big. When he got that stick he didn't want to let it go."

Before the game started, Michael said he thought they would be able to stay only for a period or two due to his son's health.

But the family was there until Jacob Lagace scored into an empty net with 31 seconds left to seal a 4-1 victory, setting off jumps of joys and hugs.

All part of not letting go.

Toy donations can be made through Friday at any Jersey Mike's Sub Shop (2715 Coffee Road or 5120 Stockdale Highway) or Terrio Physical Fitness and Therapy locations in Bakersfield.