Hidden gems quite worthy of admiration
One of the perks of covering high school sports in central Ohio is having the opportunity to watch thousands of area athletes perform on a relatively small stage before they move on to bigger and better things.
During the past 12 years, hundreds of area athletes have gone on to entertain fans across the country as key contributors for college sports programs.
A smaller segment of those athletes, such as 2003 Dublin Coffman graduate and current NFL quarterback Brady Quinn, have moved on to play professional sports at the highest level.
I've always admired elite athletes for their work ethic and raw talent and have been captivated when they make breathtaking plays.
But over the years, I've come across a treasure trove of lesser-known student athletes who I believe are just as, if not more, worthy of admiration as the star athletes who have become widely known.
Many of these hidden gems have overcome a myriad of obstacles, including physical and mental disabilities, personal tragedies and devastating injuries, to compete in high school sports.
Such athletes are an inspiration to their families, coaches, teammates and peers, and they are a good reminder that all of us should appreciate and make the most of what we have.
For some athletes, the mere act of competing is a huge personal victory.
For example, Katie Allen finished last in the majority of her cross country and track and field races while competing for Hilliard Darby from 2005-09, but she often received the loudest ovation as she crossed the finish line.
Allen has cerebral palsy, a disorder of movement, muscle tone or posture that is caused by abnormal development in the brain, most often before birth. In her case, that includes disturbances in vision, gait, balance, coordination and walking.
Allen also suffers from hemiparesis, which results in weakness and a general lack of control on one side of her body. Her left hip is partially out of socket and, when she walks or runs, her left foot often drags across the ground. She also isn't able to completely straighten her left arm.
Running cross country led to some nasty spills for Allen, whose left foot sometimes got tripped up by tree roots or uneven surfaces. But she never dropped out of a race, regardless of weather or course conditions, and she never complained about her condition or wanted pity from her teammates.
Another example of perseverance came last fall as Ivan Rodriguez of the Hilliard Bradley boys soccer team was diagnosed with multiple cancerous tumors.
The effects of chemotherapy caused him to miss the Jaguars' first 13 games before making an inspirational return in a 1-0 victory over Hilliard Darby just 11 days after receiving his fourth and final treatment.
In other instances, athletes have overcome extreme physical setbacks to reach very high levels of success.
Three members of Canal Winchester's 2012 senior class -- Sam Decker, Carrie Strawser and Kayla Scott -- are examples of individuals who refused to let medical conditions stop them from reaching their dreams.
On Oct. 20, 2006, Decker was blinded in his right eye when a BB pellet from a friend's gun ricocheted through his eyelid, iris and retina.
After being told he could no longer play contact sports, Decker switched to swimming and went on to win a Division II state title in the 100-yard freestyle in a program-record 46.1 seconds his junior year. He will continue his swimming career at Ohio State, from which he earned an athletic scholarship.
In March 2009, Strawser was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease. As a senior, she averaged 9.4 points for the girls basketball team and has been recruited to play at Capital University.
During Scott's freshman year, her running career nearly was derailed when she was diagnosed with having vocal cord dysfunction, a disorder that occurs when the vocal cords move toward each other when a person breathes, narrowing the airway and causing wheezing and difficulty breathing.
Scott learned to control the disorder through speech therapy and abdominal breathing techniques and blossomed into one of the top Division I cross country and track athletes in the state during her senior season. She earned an athletic scholarship from Ohio University.
The aforementioned athletes have taught us the importance of having the courage to overcome life's obstacles.
For that reason, I have expanded my list of sports heroes to include these young athletes. They likely will never be famous, but they will always hold a special place in the hearts of those people whose lives they touched.