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It's not about soccer

September 26, 2002|by ANDREW MASON

By far, the most inspirational book I've ever read is "It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life" by four-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong overcame a virulent form of testicular cancer that spread to his lungs and brain before unleashing the same resiliency and zest on the French Alps. His yellow jersey is as much about living and breathing as it is being king of the cycling world.

Zach Tanner, 17, of Waynesboro, is currently reading the book. Actually, he's also living it this fall, somewhere in the middle chapters.

Tanner, a Herald-Mail first-team soccer all-star as a junior last year, was diagnosed with testicular cancer during Waynesboro's first week of practice last month. The next day, he had surgery to remove the tumor. Now, he's in the middle of chemotherapy treatments, trying to ward off the final traces of the disease that spread to his lungs and lymph nodes.

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"This kind of cancer spreads up. They said if I waited any longer it would have been all over my lungs," said Tanner. "I kind of caught it right in between stages when it was starting to spread. There's still a 90 percent cure rate, and I figure being an athlete will help just as much."

But, Tanner - who starred at center midfield, igniting the Indians to their first winning season in the Mid-Penn last year - is completely sidelined from all sports and school activity this fall.

Obviously, it was all quite the blow to take initially.

"Being an athlete you're like, 'It won't happen to me,'" he said. "The first couple days I didn't know what to say. But I got to the point where I was like, 'I'm just going to get through this, get it over with, and get on with my life.' It's just something that's going to stop me for a while."

Tanner plans to be back in the classroom around Thanksgiving - shortly after he's finished chemotherapy - and back in the Indians' soccer lineup next fall, as he finishes his senior year.

"The PIAA says I can play next year if I'm out 60 days with an excuse, and I think I have one," he said. "I'm just going to start over and make everything up. It's like a redshirt year."

All of Tanner's focus and energy is moving forward. And, as Armstrong did, he hopes to come back stronger, beginning with the spring track season. Last spring, Tanner was a District 3-AAA qualifier in the javelin.

"When I come back, my muscles won't be the same," said Tanner, who's already lost 25 pounds from his 185-pound frame. "But right when I'm done, I'm hitting the weights. I'm going right in. I'll just be hardcore about getting into shape and getting ready. I'm going to be working extra hard, and hopefully I'll be even better."

He may even start paying closer attention to the Tour de France.

"I used to watch the Tour de France on TV but didn't really get into it," he said. "Once you read that book, you learn a lot more about racing and what Lance Armstrong went through. It's helped me."

Andrew Mason is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at andrewm@herald-mail.com

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