Photo credit: Cincinnati.com, Phil Didion
Sports and high school. The two go together like ice cream and apple pie. Playing sports in high school not only provides much needed physical exercise for adolescents, but also offers a social outlet and a way to make friends and bring families together for games.
For children with chronic diseases, being able to engage in social activities in school can be a welcome distraction from the illness that they are battling. During times when they may be feeling completely different from their peers, these activities can help them to feel like they belong and give them a sense of stability.
For Miranda Sanderfer of Norwood, Cincinnati, her outlet is soccer. She is not just your average player, however. As a freshman she landed a spot on the varsity team as the goalkeeper. Something she no doubt fought hard to get. Her coach John Worley knew that he had not made a mistake by assigning her this important position.
During playoffs that year they played a school that would go on to be the state champions. Even though they lost 5 to 0, that is hardly a reflection on Sanderfer’s abilities, as the person shooting has managed to get through 11 other players before reaching her. Worley said that Sanderfer was tested in a serious way that game. Shots were flying at her left and right and she was defending them like a pro. Had she not been in the goal, they would have lost by much more. Sanderfer had her hardest game, and her coach recognized it. Of the game Worley said, “What she puts into it, she went way above and beyond. It could have been way worse. Some of her saves were just incredible saves."
Miranda’s cystic fibrosis
There’s something else that makes this player different. Sanderfer has Cystic Fibrosis (CF) which she was diagnosed with at birth. The fact that Sanderfer not only plays soccer, but also plays with such determination means that while many players recognize when she is not feeling well, you would not guess that she is hospitalized for a few weeks every year.
Since she started to become more active, her number of hospitalizations has increased due to more chest congestion. She is adamant that her disease does not limit her. Sanderfer says that she has more issues breathing when it is humid and hot out. Juggling CF, school, and soccer has also seemed to teach her about time management. Her goalkeeping coach says that Sanderfer always reaches out to her when she has medical appointments, and always makes up her lost training time. Those extra minutes and that extra effort makes a difference and reveals itself during games.
Miranda is determined to motivate her team
This teen is a vision of inspiration to all other kids facing the adversity of adolescence coupled with a chronic life-threatening condition. She never gives up. Sanderfer is also a Make-a-Wish kid who got to go to Honolulu, Hawaii. Not many kids would go straight from their airplane to their first soccer scrimmage of the year, but Sanderfer did. Despite the exhaustion, she carried on through the whole game. The thing about teams is that this type of enthusiasm and dedication is contagious. Just as it may only take one person to bring a group down, sometimes you only need one person to lift the group up. That’s the effect that Sanderfer’s attitude and determination has on the rest of the team. In September, she was the second-place goalkeeper in terms of saves.
Her hard work is evident to her teammates. Gabby Smith, a fellow player who has been on a team with Sanderfer since they were little said, “You could just tell on her face she didn't feel good at all. She still came out. If it wasn't for her, we'd have been down 8-0. That was the best game I think she's ever played. Even though she didn't feel well, you could tell on her face she wanted to be there... She made saves I've never seen before. She took it to a whole other level.”
Positivity is contagious
Teammate Holly Borgemenke says that Sanderfer’s mentality is contagious. “Always in games, if we're down, she'll always try to talk us up and try not to get down on ourselves. She's always trying to talk to us and pick us up.”
Sanderfer’s grandpa is a die-hard fan. He shows up to all her games, which motivates her to play even harder. Like many girls, her grandfather is someone that she looks up to. As a senior, she is now the team captain and she knows what a responsibility this is. She tries not to make her illness the center of attention for the team. Her goal is to show other players that they can do anything, even when success seems impossible.
One of Sanderfer’s close friends and teammates Gabby Smith has felt the impact that her attitude has had on the team, “Mandy is so inspirational to us and our team in that the days she doesn't feel 100 percent, she still walks out onto this field and gives her all; she puts in 110 percent. To me, I don't think I'd be able to do it, to be completely honest. She puts her heart and soul onto that field every time. She's an overall great player and a great person.” Borgemenke, who has diabetes, feels that how Sanderfer juggles her illness, school, and soccer is particularly inspiring and reminder to her that her diabetes does not have to own her.
Her goalkeeping coach Maggie Donnellan says that she is so determined that sometimes the adults have to step in and tell her to take a break and catch her breath. At the same time, having someone this eager is a change of pace for the coaches and they say that it can be a fun challenge for them.
The staff is ready to accommodate at any time
While the coaching staff were ready to accommodate her as she needed them to, they have said that they have not needed to change much. Worley says, “We learned when she was a freshman - of course, we did all the medical data - we knew about it, of course her laps, her running, the cardio part of the practice, we let her work at her own pace and go through it. She never not does it, never says 'I can't.' She may be a lap and a half down, but she's never going to quit. She's always gonna give something. We don't do a whole lot as far as changing anything for her. We let her work at her own pace.”
Hopefully Sanderfer’s message of hope and strength will spread far and wide to help other teens push themselves towards their dreams despite the obstacles that are placed in front of them. Additionally, the drama that comes with being in high school can be quite distracting. It would be great if stories such as this one helped adolescents realize what is truly important during their high school years.