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Gretna Golfer Loses Cancer Battle

John Atkinson Played In Torrey Pines Pro-Am Tournament

Jeffrey Field, Jeffrey Field, KMBC.com Editor

POSTED: 8:01 pm CDT June 11, 2009

UPDATED: 9:17 pm CDT June 11, 2009

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GRETNA, Neb. -- A man from Gretna who lived a golfing dream lost his difficult battle with lung cancer on Thursday.

John Atkinson won a Golf Digest contest for the opportunity to play in a Pro Am golf tournament at Torrey Pines, the site of last year's United States Open tournament. His partners were Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, "Today" host Matt Lauer and singer Justin Timberlake.

In an interview last summer, Atkinson said he was just an average Joe, with a decent golf game.

"I work full time, enjoy golf, play with my kids and go to church," he said.

Atkinson was also battling lung cancer. He said he wasn't sure exactly why he got it.

"I'm the guy next door like everybody else," he said last year. "I took care of myself, worked out, didn't smoke, did all the things you're supposed to do and still, without warning, lung cancer hit me."

He said a year ago that he was an advocate for the Lung Cancer Alliance and hoped his golf outing would raise awareness and money for lung cancer research. He said the golf prize was a dream, but it paled in comparison to his mission of beating cancer.

"People have told me, and I've read how you can't do this and you can't do that, but I keep defying the odds, so I figure, why can't I do it?" he said.

Atkinson left a hospital on Tuesday and died at home on Thursday afternoon, surrounded by friends and family members.

Copyright 2009 by KETV.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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