DeKalb Chronicle Article about Grace Waller

Waller returns to the pool


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DeKALB – When Grace Waller was first diagnosed with cancer last November, her goal immediately became getting in shape to get back in the pool and swim with her DeKalb/Sycamore co-op teammates.

There was never a guarantee that could ever happen.

But today, when the Barbs compete at the St. Charles East Sectional, the junior and two-time state qualifier will be in the pool swimming the 200 freestyle and 200 freestyle relay.

While there likely won’t be a miracle finish or another state qualification, the fact she is even in the pool after working her way through 40 weeks of chemotherapy is against the odds.

“I always knew this was my goal, but I was so scared that I wouldn’t be able to for some reason,” Waller said. “There’s always that ‘what if.’ ”

Those moments of doubt, however, haven’t changed how Waller has dealt with osteosarcoma, a cancer found in her right leg that caused doctors to remove and replace her kneecap and the bottom six inches of her femur last March.

She spent just six weeks after the surgery out of the pool before going back in for swims between chemotherapy treatments.

So when those treatments ended on Oct. 24, she was ready to rejoin her teammates immediately.

“There was never a time when she didn’t know she would come back,” Waller’s mother, Jacque, said. “It’s just a matter of the chemo knocking her down every two weeks.”

Waller still hasn’t been cleared to start off blocks as her femur grows back around the device that replaced her kneecap and lower portion of her femur, so she will start from the water – a big disadvantage – in her two races today.

The fact that she even is back racing, however, will outweigh any of her results.

“I’m still not back into shape like I used to be,” Waller said. “But it’s really encouraging how far I have come.”

Coach Leah Eames said she has challenged Waller with tough workouts since she returned, trying to see exactly what she can handle. But every time, to Eames’ surprise, Waller has completed the task.

“Some of the workouts I give her, I’ve looked for her to fail just to see where she is at,” Eames said. “She has surprised me how fast she gets back into it.”

Waller also is busy catching up on her schoolwork before she returns to DeKalb High sometime in the near future. She’s kept in touch with her teachers – though it was tough to do her work during chemo treatments with what patients refer to as “chemo brain.”

The treatments make it difficult to concentrate on anything for very long.

“Those treatments wiped her out completely,” Jacque Waller said. “By the 34th or 36th week, it took her a lot longer to feel healthy again. I’m excited for her now because every day is better and better.”

Now Waller spends her days trying to cram and catch back up with her classmates, even following along live from home in her advanced algebra class, where she can see the teacher’s notes live on his smartboard while listening through a microphone on the board.

Eames even tutors Waller in math when she needs help.

“All day I do homework and then go to practice, that’s all I do,” Waller said.

Today’s meet will be her just reward.