Inspirational setter returns to Eagles’ volleyball team
October 7, 2008
By Derek Johnson
In the game of life, wins and losses aren’t always reflected on a scoreboard. Such is the case for Issaquah High School volleyball player Kristen Webb. It was in April 2007, toward the end of her sophomore year, that the promising youngster first noticed she felt wrong physically.
“I was suddenly getting tired faster and I got worn out quickly,” the 17-year-old said. “I broke out in hives. I knew something wasn’t quite right. I went in for a blood test. I didn’t really think much about it at the time.”
But by June 2007, her perspective had changed drastically. That’s when her doctor diagnosed her with leukemia. Suddenly, she faced an uncertain future filled with arduous treatments.
“I underwent really heavy chemotherapy the first couple of months,” she said. “Every week was chemo.”
Webb’s body quickly began losing quite a bit of muscle mass. Steroids were given to help stave off the atrophy process. Her shoulders and knees began to ache and feel tight, after which she was diagnosed as having avascular necrosis. For people afflicted with avascular necrosis, the suffering comes from a loss of blood supply to the bones.
“That was definitely brought on by the steroids,” she said.
As Webb resigned herself to a long year apart from her classmates and the volleyball squad, her teammates made their presence felt. They paid her visits, called on the phone and encouraged her to get better.
“Kristen would have easily been the starting setter last year and the team’s win-loss record would have been way higher,” said Issaquah head coach Todd Parsons, reflecting on the 7-16 record of 2007. “When she was diagnosed with leukemia, our team was sent into serious disarray. With her, we probably would have won the KingCo title.”
As the pages of the calendar turned to 2008, Webb continued to struggle. The lowest points found her so beset by weakness and fatigue that she could barely move. She had lost a tremendous amount of weight. With her senior season looming, half of her teammates had either graduated or moved on, bringing several unfamiliar faces to the squad. Webb wasn’t sure of her place anymore, assuming she returned at all.
But as time moved on, so did the healing process. Webb began to turn a corner this summer.
“When I was able to simply stand up, that was a pretty cool moment,” she said. “I was excited.”
As it turned out, the new girls on the team not only reached out to Webb, but made her a focal point.
“Over the off-season, this group prepared and trained like no other team I have ever had at Issaquah,” said Parsons, whose career record in six seasons is 104-44. “They have rallied around Kristen and dedicated their efforts to loving her and supporting her. They really committed to becoming the best team they could and return Issaquah back to the top.”
During recent practices, Webb has been present and participated to a limited degree. She takes frequent breaks. When her teammates are required to run lines, she does sit-ups. For the time being, her official position is as a defensive specialist. While still underweight, she is regaining muscle.
“In terms of quickness and jumping, and those innate volleyball skills, she is 150 percent better than she was just two months ago,” Parsons said.
When asked how the situation has changed her outlook on life, with her stylish, short brown hair and attractive smile, she paused to give it thought.
“I guess I’m more appreciative of everything,” she said. “Just being able to stand up and walk across the room, I’m grateful.”
As for her goals for the coming year, she grinned.
“I want to be a setter again,” she said.
In the game of life, victories aren’t always reflected on a scoreboard. As a recent scrimmage commenced, the Issaquah girls scurried on both sides of the net, hitting the ball to-and-fro, back-and-forth.
Suddenly, a tall girl on the far side of the court stepped forward and smacked the ball into the near court, a few feet from Webb. Time seemed to stand still. Then, Webb moved into position, leaned forward and reached the ball with her wrists — sending it into the air.
Webb’s team didn’t win the point, but it didn’t matter. Her teammates clapped and briefly surrounded her with words of encouragement.
“That was a pretty big moment,” Parsons explained. “Kristen wouldn’t have been able to get to that ball a month ago, or even a week ago. She’s on her way back.”
“She is doing such an amazing job,” said teammate Kim Greene. “We’re all very proud.”
Added teammate Kayla Schwisow: “It’s motivating to see her recovering like this. We’re all pulling for her.”
Reach interim Sports Reporter Derek Johnson at 392-6434, ext. 236, or firstname.lastname@example.org.