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Gift Given Back

by Andrea Canale

I had no idea I could benefit so much from simply volunteering my time!

 When I was a little kid growing up, I watched high school teenagers in awe. I couldn’t wait to be one of them. They looked cool lugging heavy backpacks filled with mysterious books. I always imagined high school offering opportunities to take fun courses and to join clubs and sports teams.

My first week as a freshman in high school was exactly as I predicted. Classes were awesome, and friends and enthusiastic teachers surrounded me. When it came time to pick a sport to get involved in, the choice was simple. The thought of running on the track team, swooshing past my opponents, excited me enough to sign up.
My mother bought me new running shoes and athletic wear. The school issued team shirts—slick, apple-red tank tops with white lettering. I felt proud to belong to the team.
My first few jaunts around the track felt good. I took it easy and maintained a nice, slow pace. A cute boy sprinted by, causing me to release my pent-up energy and kick into overdrive. However, each time my feet pounded against the track, sharp pains shot up my legs. Maybe I’m out of shape, I thought as I continued running. But the pain became so intense that I had to stop.
I sat down on the hot pavement with tears welling up in my eyes. I was scared when I noticed that one of my legs was swollen and  red. It throbbed uncontrollably. I just wanted the pain to stop and the swelling to go down.
I hobbled to the roadside, called my mother, and waited. I was worried sick. Did I sprain my ankle, I wondered? Is it a stress fracture? I wished things would go back to normal.
When I recognized my mother’s car, I tried to stand up, but it hurt so much that I fell down.
My mom rushed to me. “What happened?” she asked.
“I don’t know, but just look at my legs.” I put them together so she could see the difference.
“Did you fall?”
“No, Mom,” I cried. “I’m in so much pain I can’t stand it.”
My mom reached for her cell phone and called our doctor. At the doctor’s office the doctor bombarded me with questions as he scribbled on my chart. He occasionally nodded or smiled while he listened. After examining me, he began, “I’d like to run a few tests . . . I suspect you might have a bleeding disorder.”
My mouth went dry while my palms pooled with sweat. Questions whirled through my head all at once. The only question I managed to ask was, “Can I still run?”
Ride to the ranch
The following week I was diagnosed with Von Willebrand Disease, a bleeding disorder. It explained why I’d always struggled with frequent nosebleeds. It also became clear why it took so long for my scrapes and bruises to heal. I didn’t know I was bleeding in my joints when I ran. That’s why my leg had gotten inflamed, and I had to quit track.
I went to a hematology center where I learned how to live with this lifelong disease. There I received a medication that controls my bleeding.
“This isn’t what I expected high school to be like,” I cried to Juliana, my older sister, who listened sympathetically. “I wanted to be a part of something. That’s why it was so important to be on the track team.”
Juliana patted my hand. “You can do other things. Why not join a club? I’ll introduce you to the students in the Hole-in-the-Wall Club.” She smiled confidently. “You’re going to love it.”
I went to the club meeting at Juliana’s urging. Upperclassmen boasted about how great it was. They raised money for kids with cancer so that they could attend summer camp at the Double H Ranch in the Adirondack Mountains. There kids have an opportunity to escape dreaded hospital visits and doctors’ appointments.
Thinking of the children’s happiness, I joined the club. Juliana was right! It was a perfect opportunity to do something positive instead of running track. Imagining kids struggling with cancer lessoned the sting of my recent Von Willebrand diagnosis.
I liked the other members of the Hole-in-the-Wall Club and enjoyed brainstorming ideas on fund-raising events we could hold to benefit the campers. When the day came to actually go to the ranch, I was beyond excited. Our assignment was to ready the facility for the upcoming summer programs.
We spent four long hours on a rickety yellow school bus as it drove over twisty back roads through the Adirondacks. At Double H Ranch my task was to clean cabins, scrub tables and chairs, and mop floors. I didn’t clean that much at home, but the sickly kids needed a clean, safe environment, and I was going to give them that.
Even though I was exhausted, I kept working. Then I got assigned the worst possible duty: I had to shovel horse manure! It was a hot day, and it was a smelly, backbreaking job. The thought of the smiling kids’ faces when they arrived at camp made me plug my nose and shovel away. I knew I could rest on the bus ride home.
Before I climbed on that bus, though, I picked up a rake and started cleaning under the shrubs in front of the resident cabins. As I worked, I imagined sick children playing. I thought about their bald heads from chemotherapy and appreciated the canopy of shade the trees provided.
When I got home, I wanted a hot shower and the comfort of my bed. But my mom, too excited, wouldn’t hear of it. She was holding a stack of mail, and I could tell she wanted to show it all to me.
“I heard from the National Hemophilia Foundation today,” she said, shaking a large white envelope.
“That’s nice,” I mumbled.
“There’s a conference you could attend.”
“That’s nice,” I said again, this time talking over a cookie I was shoving into my mouth.
“And I found a special camp you can attend this summer.”
I stopped chewing and listened.
“This camp looks wonderful, and they designate a week just for girls with bleeding disorders.”
I swallowed hard and took the brochure from her. I had to smile and fight tears that crept into my eyes. It was going to be at the Double H Ranch.
Andrea Canale is a high school student who writes for 
various publications.

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