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Waller giving back with inspiration

Published: Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Jose Juarez photo – Courtesy of Oakland (Mich.) Univeristy)
Former DeKalb swimmer Grace Waller, who now is on the Oakland (Mich.) University swimming team, will be participating in the Swim Across America event today in Chicago to help raise money for cancer research.

Athletes are used to an irritated muscle, torn ligament or broken bones. After a few weeks or months, they are ready to play again. Unfortunately, for former DeKalb swimmer Grace Waller, it wasn’t that easy.

Waller spent nine years of her life as a swimmer at a competitive level, and in 2008, the Monday after the high school state meet of her sophomore year, tragedy struck.

Many people know her story: Waller was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, when she was 16 years old. After two months of chemotherapy, a reconstructive surgery on her knee and six inches of her femur removed, 18 more rounds of chemotherapy and the help of Dr. Walter Virkus (orthopedic oncologist) and registered nurse Patti Piasecki at Midwest Orthopedic at Rush Hospital, Waller made a return to the pool.

Waller finished her high school swimming career and has since gone on to college, where she swims on the Oakland University team in Michigan.

Most recently however, she has been preparing for a different event today. An event for fun and supporting those who helped her.

Waller will be participating along with Piasecki in a Swim Across America event in Chicago that raises money for cancer research.

Piasecki, the leader of the nine-person Midwest Orthopedic at Rush team, formed a strong relationship with Waller and said the majority of the people swimming on the MOR team were in some way influenced to participate by Waller.

“I am not a swimmer myself, but I feel that if Grace and the other patients can swim after they’ve had cancer, then I can get through half a mile in the water,” Piasecki said.

It isn’t about proving to herself and others that Waller can swim half a mile in Lake Michigan after beating her illness, because she already has made that comeback.

Instead, it’s something so much more.

“Cancer is a terrible thing and it affects the patients’ lives along with their family and friends, so this is a way that I can possibly help by raising money or awareness,” Waller said, “It’s really cool that the donations raised gets to go back to the place that I was treated at and to make sure that someone else in my situation gets the same amount of care that I had.”

Today at Swim Across America in Chicago, Waller again will show how she overcame her roadblocks and for the people in her situation that with a lot of hard work and a lot of heart, anything is possible.

• Jessica Crawford is an intern for the Daily Chronicle. Write to her at jcrawford@shawmedia.com.

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