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Athletes overcome adversity with true grit

May 12, 2009|By DAN KAUFFMAN

o Profiles of all 14 True Grit Award recipients will appear in Sunday's Herald-Mail.

HAGERSTOWN -- In some ways, Williamsport cheerleader Katarina Stains is just like any other high school senior this time of year.

"Prom is Saturday and we went dress shopping together, and then there's graduation," Wildcats cheerleading coach Ryann Crawford said.

But one look at her wheelchair and the mask she wears over her face makes it clear Stains is not just like any other high school senior.

Stains was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma -- a form of cancer that attacks bone or soft tissue -- in December. She was told she'd never cheer again, and the news devastated her.

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"When I was told I couldn't cheer anymore, I cried," Stains said. "That was my whole life. If I was stressed, I would cheer. If I was going through problems, I would cheer."

Life goes on, and so does Stains -- and she proved her doctors wrong in the process. In February, Stains cheered again at Senior Night, with the support of hundreds of classmates.

"That was the greatest feeling in the world," she said. "I can't explain how honored I feel to know everybody is behind me. So many people are behind me, and I'm so thankful for that."

"To see everything she has gone through ... to come back and just walk across the floor was so inspirational for all of us," Crawford said. "She's not just a member of our cheerleading team, she's like another kid of mine. Seeing her at Senior Day, I was just as emotional as her family."

Stains was one of 14 athletes honored Tuesday at the 2009 True Grit Awards ceremony at Fountain Head Country Club. Those recognized include one senior from each of Washington County's 13 public and private high schools, as well as a sophomore from Hagerstown Community College.

St. Maria Goretti volleyball star Caitlin Breslin kept her battle with cystic fibrosis -- a hereditary disease that affects the lungs, liver, pancreas and intestines -- so private, few of her teammates knew she had it.

"I never wanted anybody to treat me differently, get weird about it. I wanted them to treat me normal," said Breslin, who earned All-Apple Valley League second-team honors and participated in the All-Star Spikefest volleyball showcase in December. "I've had it my whole life and it's never affected me that much. I've tried to keep up with everybody ... and not let it get to me or affect my life."

"She never, ever let it prevent her from participating in any drill," Goretti Athletic Director Carol Brashears said. "Other kids would sit out, and you thought, 'If only you knew what Caitlin is going through.'"

Smithsburg runner Zachary Cross followed in brother Jason Cross' footsteps. Jason received the True Grit award in 2005 after recovering from aplastic anemia, which required a bone marrow transplant for which Zachary was the donor.

"When I found out I was a perfect match, I knew I was doing it," Zachary said. "I got closer to my brother through it. We weren't really close before that. Now we help each other out as much as we can."

Zachary battled through numerous injuries during his prep career, including two injured ankles suffered in a fall off a house roof, to set Smithsburg's 500-meter record (1:11.83) and win Class 1A West indoor track titles in the 500, 800 and 4x400 relay.

"There has been some tough times, but I bounce back," he said. "I want to help the team out. I don't want them to suffer because of me."

Maj. David Rozelle of the U.S. Army was the keynote speaker at Tuesday's ceremonies. Rozelle's right leg was amputated below the knee in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, but he returned to active duty. He has been awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal.

The other 11 True Grit Award recipients are:

o Marcus Angle, football, Boonsboro

o Maegan Taylor, volleyball/softball, Broadfording

o Elizabeth Andrews, girls soccer, Clear Spring

o Brandon Hess, baseball, Grace Academy

o Caty Hess, girls soccer/track and field, Hancock

o Megan Holmes, softball, Hagerstown Community College

o Grace O'Brien, volleyball/girls soccer/cheerleading, Heritage Academy

o Michael Nyatta, boys basketball, Highland View Academy

o Bryan Calendine, football/boys basketball/track and field, North Hagerstown

o Se Young Lee, field hockey/lacrosse, Saint James

o Lauren Marriner, girls soccer, South Hagerstown

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