Chicago Sun-Times article about Grace Waller

Listed below is an article which appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times about DCST Swimmer Grace Waller on April 17th.


Fighting with Grace

DeKalb swimmer, 16, vows bone cancer won't be the end of her career


April 17, 2009

In Illinois' swimming world, they are calling her ''Amazing Grace.''

Just days after the girls state swim meet in November, DeKalb sophomore Grace Waller was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.

''Everything happens for a reason,'' the 16-year-old said. ''The only way I could look at it was that it was another bump in the road to overcome. I try to stay positive because I know that this is not forever.''

Waller finished 11th in the 200-yard individual medley and swam on two top-12 relays with her sister, Bowling Green-bound Emily, at the state meet. As a freshman, she was eighth in the breaststroke, her specialty, but didn't qualify for the 2008 finals.

She started complaining of knee pain last August.

''I didn't want to go see a doctor,'' she said. ''I thought I had a tear or tendinitis. One practice, my knee was really swollen and I tried to ice it at the beginning of practice. It was pretty frustrating -- I started to get more than worried. I didn't want to let my team down, so I just tried to push through the pain and tried to think about other stuff.''

Her world was turned upside-down. She has been undergoing chemotherapy and has been out of school for five months, working with a tutor.

''I have to say that the DeKalb administration has been phenomenal and extremely supportive,'' her father, Brad Waller, said. ''They are letting her do her sophomore year at home. Every time she has chemo, she needs a few days to recover and get her strength back.

''Grace has a great mental outlook. As a family, we have a strong faith in God, and that has kept us going. I'd admire anyone who could do what she did.''

Her father was an all-state basketball player at Glenbard East in 1980 who lettered three times for coach John McDougal at Northern Illinois. He is a member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and was selected to NIU's All-Century team.

Swimming right up to surgery

Waller was swimming 3,000 yards a day and continued to swim up until her surgery.

''Grace is doing well, but she has a lot of chemo ahead of her,'' her father said. ''She had surgery five weeks ago and basically has a brand new right knee. They removed about six inches of femur. She's had six rounds of chemo so far and still has between 12 and 16 to go, every two weeks.

''She started complaining about having knee pain in August, but that isn't really uncommon for a breaststroker. In my world [football and basketball], I was thinking ACL or MCL. But she swam the state meet with a cancerous tumor. We were blown away by her tolerance for pain.''

She said now she's ''not worried at all'' and said her doctors have been terrific.

''The doctors said that April 20 is the day I can swim again,'' she said. ''And I have chemo that day.

''When I was diagnosed, I was pretty upset. My first thoughts were what it would do to my swimming. I was mad that it happened and mad that I just couldn't keep swimming. I would go and watch my sister practice.

''Right after I was diagnosed, everyone was texting me. Some were not really close friends or kids I hadn't heard from in years. But you know high school girls. It also brought a lot of kids closer to me that I really care about now.''

Wrist support

There is a care page at gracewaller to follow her progress. And there are Gracelets -- ''AMAZING GRACE'' bracelets that have reached many, including Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte and supermodel Cindy Crawford, a DeKalb alum.

It's now just about a return to what she misses most.

''Grace has a passion for the sport,'' her father said. ''What is driving her is coming back. She is looking to return between August and October. She told my wife and I, 'If it is October, I'll only have a month to get ready for state.'

''She knows she'll be able to swim again and compete with no limitations. My goal is that she is cancer-free.''

Added Grace: ''I would tell anyone who faced something like this to stay positive. You have to try to find silver linings in the clouds. And most of all, be patient.''