cross country postseason is the time of year Karlie Hey usually shines brightest.
After all, the Newman senior has two state medals to her credit: fourth as a freshman in 17 minutes, 48 seconds, and fifth as a sophomore in 17:29. She was also a state qualifier as a junior, and placed 46th.
Now Hey is facing a different challenge, and it appears to be one she’s winning, with some help along the way.
This past spring, Hey, a distance ace for the Comets’ track team, could not run without intense pain in her right hip. She got a cortisone shot and it helped for a few months.
Finally, on Aug. 3, a bone biopsy provided an answer, and it was not a good one: Hey had cancer.
Specifically, Hey had sarcoma, a tumor that occurs in bones and soft tissue. It is somewhat rare, with less than 200,000 cases per year.
“I thought it was just another small injury, especially since I had injuries before to my hip,” Hey said. “But then the more pain I had, I knew this was not just another injury. It was something more than that.”
Hey underwent her 10th chemotherapy treatment recently and it has been effective. The tumor is still confined to her right hip and it does not appear to be growing or spreading.
Hey is scheduled to have an MRI, which will determine the next course of treatment. It will either be radiation, to kill the cancerous tumor, or surgery to remove it.
“We would prefer the radiation because it means that it has shrunk better and has gotten down,” Hey said. “Surgery is still OK, but we’re hoping for radiation. Whatever the outcome is, I’m ready to get done with it and keep continuing.”
Radiation or surgery is slated for mid-November, and that will be followed by 22 weeks of chemotherapy. If all goes well, Hey will have a clean bill of health by late April or early May.
Helping Hey along has been the Newman family and the cross country community in general. Teammate Noah Welty designed a t-shirt with state medals on it and a message: “Tell cancer she doesn’t know how to lose.” The Comets wear these shirts before every race.
“Karlie is an accomplished runner, and I wanted to show that,” Welty said. “I didn’t want people to just think she was just some other runner. She’s a very special, talented athlete, and I wanted to show that off. She’s a fighter, and she’s going to beat this.”
The Erie-Prophetstown team had bracelets made to honor Hey. Coaches have reached out to Newman coach Pat Warkins to lend their support.
Warkins noted it’s been a season like no other, with COVID-19 restrictions and his top runner on the sideline.
“It’s been fun working with the kids, but you just kind of miss that leadership and bubbly attitude that Karlie has,” Warkins said.
On Oct. 15 at a meet in Kewanee, all of the runners wore t-shirts to honor Hey, and she was presented with gift cards to treat herself and family to dinner. She had no clue what was going on.
“Actually, I had no idea about it until I came up,” Hey said. “I was like, ‘Mom, that girl’s shirt says Hey on it. Is that for me?’ She was like, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Why do you have to hide things from me?’ She was like, ‘Because you have to have surprises.’ It was very heartwarming to me, to see everybody there with the support they had. It was very nice.”
If there is anything good to come out of this, Hey can see herself emerging as a person who can handle just about anything thrown her way.
“It’s definitely made me a stronger person already,” Hey said. “There are some days I’m like, ‘I don’t know if I could do this,’ but there are other days I’m like, ‘I got this.’ Having the support around me has really helped. I’m definitely not alone.”