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DeKalb Chronicle Article Previews High School Sectional Meet

Waller aims for history

By JEREMY WERNER - jwerner@daily-chronicle.com

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DeKALB – Grace Waller twice has qualified for the IHSA swimming and diving state meet. She even placed 11th in the 200-meter individual medley as a sophomore. But for the DeKalb senior, qualifying for a third time might be the highlight of her high school career.

Chemotherapy treatments and surgery to remove a malignant tumor in her right leg cost Waller most of her junior season. But heading into today’s St. Charles North Sectional, Waller is almost back to full strength and little more than a second away from reaching state-qualifying times in the 200 and 500 freestyle.

“We were talking about it the other day and it seems like it was just yesterday but it was a whole year ago when it was the last sectionals when I was still bald,” said Waller, now sporting a thick head of curly, brown and golden locks. “I think it’s a big accomplishment and it is, but it’s also just a little bump in the road that I had to get over, and I’m over it.”

Waller and the DeKalb-Sycamore co-op enter a loaded sectional with the goal of earning a top-three finish – the team took fourth last year – a challenge because the Barbs have no divers.

“Our sectional is one of the fastest in the state, so it’s just extremely intense,” coach Leah Eames said.

Waller must match or beat the state-qualifying time of 1:56.61 or place first in the 200 free and 5:12.97 in the 500 free to make a third state appearance. Teammate Tara Gidaszewski also is expected to contend for in the 100-meter backstroke with the state-qualifying time set at 1:00.09.

The Barbs usually practice before school and after school but have tapered practices in an effort to save energy for today’s meet. And while the girls were happy to sleep in the last couple school days, Gidaszewski said Waller’s comeback has provided enough excitement and motivation for the Barbs.

“It pushes me, first of all, for seeing how she can come from cancer and being back and getting state cuts and already going to sectionals,” Gidaszewski said. “It motivates me even more too. It just makes me real happy for her for everything she’s been through. She’s getting back to how she used to be.”

Waller – who will swim at a Division I college but has not yet picked a school – said she’s not yet back to 100 percent after surgery to remove the tumor claimed part of her femur and 10 percent of the muscle in her thigh. But she said improved arm and back strength has helped improve her times as she continues to regain muscle in her leg.

“She’s getting stronger and stronger every day,” Eames said.

Waller credits Eames for helping her rehab after her surgery and her teammates for supporting her through a tough year. She said she “hopes to put the cherry on top of a good season” today.

“I try not to put too much pressure on it, but it is a pretty intense meet because you have to get a state-qualifying time at sectionals,” Waller said. “You can have it all season but not get it there. There’s a lot of pressure, but I’m ready to make some memories.”