It’s just a game. A single phrase that’s simple yet has so much meaning. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes, coaches, and fans from across the country have had to re-shape their perspective to that phrase.
It’s a phrase that has invoked either frustration or recognition or in the case of Waukee High School junior Steven Danna, both. Before the world was hit with the Coronavirus, the world of Steven Danna was thrown into chaos.
“I played all of my sophomore season and I was having pain most of the season,” said Danna. “I didn’t really think much of it at first and it didn’t really affect how I played. After the season we went to a sports scientist who ran an ultrasound and we found out there was a tumor.”
Shortly after a phenomenal sophomore tennis season, Danna was forced to look outside the world of sports as he was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in his right knee. Following a strong sophomore tennis campaign where he suffered just two losses, Danna found out he had a rare form of cancer. Such a rare form that only 800 to 900 new cases are diagnosed each year in the United States. Along with that, of all the childhood cancers diagnosed in the United States, roughly only two percent are osteosarcomas. It threw quite the wrench in the lives of Steven and his family.
“It’s tough as a parent to watch your child go through anything like that,” said mother Cheri Danna.
From the initial diagnosis, Steven and his family got right to work throughout the summer and into early spring. It was a long and grueling process that presented various obvious and not so obvious challenges for an active individual like Steven.
“For me, the biggest challenge was just sitting there and being helpless,” began Steven. “Not being able to get out there with friends and family. Couldn’t eat where I wanted, I couldn’t go to the movies. I had to be dialed into my treatments at the hospital for weeks at a time.”
While the process of treatments was tough in itself, it was the waiting process that had the biggest effect on Steven.
“That really took a toll on me,” began Steven. “I was a kid who was getting out and playing four to five hours a day and having that come to a halt was life-changing.”
Steven and his family stood tall and kept going all the way through March 8 when he went through his final chemotherapy treatment and later deemed cancer-free. It was a joyous occasion and despite the scariness of it all, was an outcome that was always in the cards for the Danna family.
“Steven always kept fighting and we always knew that he would come out of this on top and cancer-free,” said Cheri Danna
It was a time for an athlete like Steven to take a step back from the sports world he loved so much. It’s an inspiring tale that goes far beyond the athletic realm as Waukee head boys tennis coach Eric Wetzel mentioned.
“Steven’s story is a perfect example of what’s most important and it really puts things into perspective,” said Wetzel. “He not only had the sport he loves taken away from him but his life was in danger and he had to battle and put everything into beating his cancer. It makes you think that maybe tennis isn’t as big in the grand scheme of things. Protecting life is the most important.”
Steven has arguably fought and won one of the hardest fights anybody could fight. He’s now in rehab with a lot of promise on the horizon. While Steven’s story does shed light on the saying there’s more to life than sports, sports like tennis have meant more to him especially in his fight.
“For me, tennis is more than a sport, it’s a passion,” said Steven. “For some people, sports is their only way out of something, and for me, it was one of the things that helped me get through this.”
Tennis has always been a big part of Steven’s life and the determined athlete in him wasn’t going to let it go anytime soon. Prior to the cancelation of the spring sports season due to COVID-19, Steven was preparing to step back on the courts helping his team. Steven was set to join back up with the team in a sort of coaching role, something that was bound to happen.
“I’m always a team player and if I go down and show I’m not going to join back up with the team, it’s not a positive mindset for everyone,” said Steven. “If I’m there, that shows that we can be strong, play through anything, and we can all have a positive outlook on things. It also helps me improve physically and mentally so basically a win-win for everyone.”
The feeling of a win-win is shared by pretty much everybody involved with Waukee tennis and it’s easy to see why. From the athlete that produced a 29-2 set record and an undefeated match record, comes the mind coach Wetzel would love to have by his side.
“Steven is a smart person with a great outlook on life,” began Wetzel. “You never wish on anyone what Steven went through but if it happens to anybody, you hope that they go through it with the same mindset as he has. He’s never had that sense that he couldn’t beat cancer. He’s always so positive no matter what he’s going in to. On the court, he studies the game really well.”
In a crazy turn of events, almost as soon as Steven was cleared of cancer, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Even for Steven, the aftermath of what the Coronavirus left him with missed opportunities.
“Steven was actually very excited to get back to school and finish up a few classes,” said Cheri. “That was going to be his first taste of normalcy but now that won’t happen for a while.”
With a compromised immune system following the chemotherapy process, it’s been a very interesting and isolated welcome back but one that Steven himself is taking in stride.
“It’s given me more time to just focus on myself, my rest, my recovery, and more,” said Steven. “My goal is to be ready for next season and although it stinks not being able to see my friends very much, it has given me the opportunity to focus on recovery.”
While many are upset about the stoppage of sports at the moment, the story of Steven Danna might just shed a light on a positive perspective. Steven’s currently going to rehab and it looks as though he should be ready to go by next tennis season.