When Demaryius Thomas takes the field on Sunday, he'll have the opportunity to break several records:
- Needs 100 yards receiving to pass Rod Smith for the most total 100-yard receiving games in Broncos history.
- Needs one receiving touchdown to pass Ed McCaffrey for sole possession of third place on the club's all-time list.
- Needs 13 receiving yards to join Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, Chad Johnson and Reggie Wayne as the only NFL players with four consecutive seasons of 90 receptions, 1,200 receiving yards and five touchdowns.
When 21-year-old Alyssa Mushin puts on her favorite No. 88 jersey on Sunday, she'll mark another day surviving with Canavan's Disease.
And that's a huge record.
A progressive and fatal neurological disorder that begins in infancy, children with Canavan's often do not live past age 4. They cannot crawl, walk, sit or talk. Over time they may suffer seizures, become paralyzed, developmentally delayed, deaf or blind and have trouble swallowing.
So Alyssa has beaten the odds five times over, and her family - staunch Broncos fans living in Connecticut - credit breakthrough gene therapy with Alyssa's prolonged and better life.
But her older brother Andrew also kind of likes to give the Broncos credit. After all, one of the family's favorite activities is gathering in front of the TV for games on Sunday to watch their favorite team - and Andrew and Alyssa's favorite wide receiver - make big plays. And anytime a family is together supporting each other and loving on Alyssa, it's a huge boost.
"Whenever we say ‘Go Broncos,' she lights up with a big smile, sometimes even a laugh. She takes after her daddy and her brother," says Andrew, adding that their younger sister and mother like to tease Alyssa with a "Go Cowboys" every now and then just to rile up Alyssa. "Her smile quickly disappears then, and my dad and I laugh really hard."
A year ago Alyssa was able to earn a high school diploma, a milestone Andrew and his family never thought would be possible. Admitting he couldn't stop crying during graduation, Andrew said it was "an incredibly special moment" that would never have seemed possible two decades ago.
"Alyssa has beaten the odds, because of the love we as a family give her. She's incredibly loved. We've gone above and beyond to make her life special, and in return, she makes our lives special," Andrew said, adding that the gene therapy his parents sought out in New Zealand first since it was not approved in the United States at the time, has been a significant factor in increasing her life expectancy. "None of us expected her to see 21, and we're incredibly thankful for that."
Because Alyssa can't travel well, she has never been to a game at Mile High. But when Andrew made his first trek there for a game last season, he made sure to pick up a jersey for her favorite player - DT.
For obvious reasons, Andrew and Alyssa are both big believers in the "Kicking And Screaming" mantra the Broncos have adopted this year, and Andrew believes the team - and particularly Thomas - could learn a thing or two from Alyssa's resilience.
Thomas - who despite vying to break several franchise and NFL records this season - has had an up-and-down year after holding out in the offseason. The Broncos' No. 1 wide receiver, who signed a five-year, $70 million contract hours before the deadline, has missed 68 passes this season, including a 1 for 13 performance against New England.
But Thomas will be aiming to erase some of those bad games this weekend on his way to a few records but more importantly for the Broncos' way to the playoffs.
If Alyssa knows anything, she knows how to fight, and her brother thinks the Broncos - and particularly DT - would do well to follow Alyssa's lead.
"The Broncos could learn to not take things for granted. I'm sure most already know this, but Alyssa teaches that lesson without saying a word," Andrew says. "She's made it to 21 years old by fighting hard, or ‘kicking and screaming' as John Elway likes to say."