January 18, 2011
GIRLS SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: New chapter awaits
Next part of Waller's inspirational story to play out a Oakland University
By JOHN SAHLY - [email protected]
|Grace Waller, the Daily Chronicle’s Girls Swimmer of the Year, returned to the state meet to compete in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events after being diagnosed with cancer in March 2009. Waller will swim with the Oakland (Mich.) University team starting this fall. (Kyle Bursaw - [email protected])|
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DeKALB – Even after her season, Grace Waller’s story
continues to inspire.
Weeks after her return to the state meet, her final race for DeKalb High, Waller’s successful battle 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 in March 2009, was featured in a detailed piece by Comcast SportsNet’s “High School Lites.” Her future college coach at Oakland University announced how thrilled he was to bring on someone of Waller’s character, and Waller continues to improve on her record season.
“She continues to amaze me every day,” DeKalb coach Leah Eames said.
Waller, the Daily Chronicle’s Girls Swimmer of the Year, always has credited the close-knit, working relationship she’s enjoyed with Eames as one of the biggest reasons she was able to qualify for the state meet in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events and break a nine-year old school record in the 500 with a swim of 5:07.1 at state.
“Now, looking back on it, I think that Leah was the best thing that could have happened to me as a coach,” Waller said. “I train with her even four days a week now. We lift and do drills on Sunday. I’m so blessed to be able to get back into this sport and be where I was able to used to be.
“It was definitely my hardest season as far as workouts go. I’m happy that I’m back.”
Before the season even started, Eames and Waller talked about Waller’s big goals and what it would take to make it back to the state meet. Eames, who opened the DeKalb pool on Sundays in between Waller’s chemotherapy treatments so Waller could train, emphasized that Waller couldn’t fear failure.
With that in mind, Eames drew up workouts specially designed for Waller to do just that – fail. The larger goal was for Waller to test her limits, but it wasn’t supposed to be a workout for her to complete.
The first week, Waller didn’t fail. She kept going. It didn’t happen the second week either. Waller simply didn’t let herself stop.
“I specifically wrote it thinking there’s no way she’d be able to make it,” Eames said. “I kind of wanted her to just do what she could do, because I wanted her to push herself to the extreme. And I expected at one point in the set to fall off and she’d not be able to make it. I told her that as I wrote the set.
“I don’t know how she did it, but she kept making it. She’s just one of those people.”
It’s one of the many qualities that attracted Oakland University to Waller, where she’ll join a program that has won 11 straight Summit League championships.
“Grace is just a tough kid,” coach Pete Hovland said in a news release announcing Waller’s signing. “She brings great athletic and academic talent to OU. Her desire to get to the next level is very apparent.”
Eames said that desire never has waned from the first practice through the start of Waller’s post-high school career.
“She’s hard on herself in the fact that she expects a lot from herself and wants to do really well,” Eames said.”But she has a positive outlook on it. I don’t think she thinks for a second that she can’t do something.”
For now, Waller will continue to train under Eames’ guidance and keep in contact with Hovland as she prepares for the next step in her swimming career.
“Personally, I just want to inspire others,” Waller said. “No matter what, you can still achieve your goals. I think I’m proof of that.”