Steven Barnabei enjoys each day.
Because the 17-year-old Land O’ Lakes High senior knows brain cancer could’ve killed him last year.
“I am happy to be alive,’’ he said. “I am glad I made it through. Now, I can influence the world the way I intended.”
The cancer sneaked up on the Lake Padgett Estates resident. He found himself dealing with numbness on the right side of his face and on his hand and then headaches. He would then need brain surgery on the day his team was to compete in its district meet. The Philadelphia native had excruciating headaches before the surgery. He was too ill to attend school a week before the operation.
It was then doctors discovered a brain tumor and rushed him to the hospital.
Barnabei’s mother, Mary Anne, said he was sitting up and eating the day after the surgery, but said the support of the Gators cross country team was tremendous.
“To say they embraced me is an understatement,’’ Barbabei said. “They really took it to heart. They gave me gifts like chocolates, money and they were all together there for me, even people I didn’t know.”
Barnabei said the doctors cleaned out the tumor and he is in remission. He was able to run a full track season.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Barnabei said. “It was a long setback. I am back where I was before. Now, I am looking forward to my senior season.”
Barnabei wants attend Florida Gulf Coast University and study marine biology. He has a 3.86 grade-point average. His coach, Kris Keppel, said he is hoping Barnabei can get a partial scholarship to the school.
And he’s well on his way after finishing fourth on his team Saturday at the Holloway Park Jamboree, running an 18:16.
“I think he has done miraculous,’’ Mrs. Barnabei said. “I praise Coach Keppel for his training. It has helped bring him back.”
Barnabei will need help to pay his medical costs. Interested parties may send donations to Kris Keppel, 20325 Gator Lane, Land O’ Lakes, 34638 or to the Steven J. Barnabei Benefit Trust at any SunTrust Bank branch.
Land O’ Lakes takes second at Jamboree
This past weekend, the Gators finished second at the the Holloway Park Jamboree, with Sarasota winning it with 57 points. Land O’ Lakes had 61 points in the 17-team race in Lakeland.
“Travis (Nichols) set a course record,” said Keppel. “He had a 16:20. Last year was the first they ran the race.”
Tyler Stahl was third with a 16:44 and Jake Poore was 10th with a 17:24, and Keppel said the course was improved from last year.
“It was a phosphate mine,” Keppel said. “The conditions were much better. It was a very tough course. … We were surprised by Sarasota. I didn’t know about them. Our goal was to average 17:45. We ran a 17:26.”
Land O’ Lakes will be at the 32-team Lecanto meet Saturday. The field will include Jacksonville’s Bartram Trail and Mandarin.
Correspondent Larry Bugg covers boys and girls prep cross country in Pasco County and can be reached at [email protected]