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Against all odds

November 07, 1998|By BOB PARASILITI

Against all odds

Williamsport runner defying predictions

WILLIAMSPORT - Nathan Buchman runs.

That, in itself, isn't a revelation. Running is a rite of boyhood, just like climbing trees and playing baseball.

Still, the ability to run defines Buchman. The simple act of moving one foot in front of another in quick, rhythmic steps gives the Williamsport High junior his identity. It's an identity he's worked hard to create and even harder to maintain.

For 16-year-old Nathan Buchman, running is his form of expression. He began running at school for acceptance - most in his peer group are members of the track team. He runs for the competition - the rush that comes with proving who's best. And now, he runs to achieve success - a state championship would be the ultimate.


But maybe most of all, he runs because he can.

That almost wasn't the case. Just two short years ago, Buchman ran the race of his life without taking a step. That's because it bordered on being the race for his life and ultimately his well-being.

Like any distance runner, Buchman used focus, endurance and fortitude, along with a good measure of faith in God and himself, in this challenge.

The starting line was a simple X-ray for leg pain. He was knocked off stride with a diagnosis of adolescent cancer with a sentence of sure death, or at least life-altering amputation.

And despite the most staggering of odds - 99-to-1 against him - Buchman used his gifts of family and stubbornness to get back on course and outlean his personal challenge at the tape to become one of the Wildcats' top runners.

He completes his first year of cross country in next Saturday's Class 1A state meet. Wil-liamsport took third place in the West region on Thursday, and Buchman finished ninth overall.

And he does it while meeting a new challenge in his life - diabetes.

"I was always good in running, but my freshman year was the worst time of my life," Buchman said. "After all this, I would have never expected to run as fast as I can now."

A typical assessment by Nathan, especially by his father Randy Buchman's standards. For Randy Buchman, the pastor of the Tri-State Fellowship and a runner himself, his eldest son's ordeal tested everything his family of seven believes.

"Now, he's participating in my sport and he's better than I am," Randy Buchman said in amazement.

"It gives me a sense of pride, but when all this happened I gave up thinking about my son as an athlete. I just wanted him alive.

"By the grace of God, this is all gravy."

Tough start

It wasn't the way Nathan Buchman dreamed of making his entrance into high school.

After beginning his education as a home-schooled student, Buchman was introduced to an exciting new world of Williamsport High School in August of 1996. A new world of friends and social events, challenges and experiences missing in home study had unfolded in front of him.

"That first day of school, I was anxious, but I wanted to try something new," Nathan said. "It was hard to get accepted. It took awhile to get to know people."

But the new chapter in Nathan's life was about to go through a drastic rewrite.

After that exciting first day, Randy Buchman picked up his son from school and took him for a precautionary X-ray.

"In the summer between eighth grade and his freshman year, he had great pain in his leg around his (left) knee," Randy said. "We told the doctor about it. He said it was probably just growing pains. But if it continued, he would send Nathan for an X-ray. Months later, I was seeing the doctor and told him Nathan still had the pain."

The next day, the shockwaves hit. The Buchman family's foundation of life and faith took a blind-side hit.

"The doctor called and said 'This is one of those calls I hate to make,'" Randy said. "He said he spotted a lesion which indicated that there was a high probability that Nathan had a cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma. It was a cancer that showed up in adolescent boys about Nathan's age and in that spot of the leg."

The news devastated Randy and his wife, Diana. Not only had this disease hit their oldest of five sons but the family was still reeling because Diana's sister had died of cancer just two weeks earlier, leaving eight children behind.

Randy had the unenviable job of telling Nathan. He braced himself for the worst.

"We told him about it when he came home from school," Randy said. "He looked stunned, his eyes filled up and he asked, 'Could I die?' We said, 'Yeah.' He didn't say anything and just went upstairs and started playing his guitar for about a half hour. I went outside and started pulling weeds. The whole time, I was telling myself this was the worst day of my life."

Heart of a champion

More tests followed. A bone scan confirmed the lesion. Doctors told the Buchmans all tests pointed to Ewing's Sarcoma, but nothing was certain without a biopsy - and that would probably only confirm their findings. Nathan had a 99 percent chance of having the cancer.

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