VIDEO: Red River senior’s love of basketball shines throughBrittany Dvorak remembers the last time she played basketball. It was Oct. 11, 2008, two days before she was diagnosed with leukemia. On Tuesday, 1,578 days later, she was back on the court. It was a long journey in more ways than are measured by a calendar.
By: Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald
Brittany Dvorak remembers the last time she played basketball. It was Oct. 11, 2008, two days before she was diagnosed with leukemia.
On Tuesday, 1,578 days later, she was back on the court. It was a long journey in more ways than are measured by a calendar.
Her return also was reason to celebrate. Her orchestrated basket in the opening minute of Grand Forks Red River’s game against Valley City (N.D.) left spectators smiling, cheering and dabbing at their eyes. Many knew how much the moment meant to her and her teammates.
“When I started playing as a third-grader,” she said this week, “I immediately liked basketball so much. Finding basketball was like finding the other part of me.”
She not only couldn’t play during those years away. She also couldn’t watch. It was too painful to see what she was missing. However, Red River coach Kent Ripplinger asked her to become part of the team this season, her senior year.
“I said I want to put you on the roster, give you a uniform number, put you in the scorebook and have you on our bench,” Ripplinger said. “I said she could wear a uniform if she wanted.
“I told her that if she joined, she would be doing as much for us as we were doing for her. There are times when players take things for granted. But then they will see a classmate who would do anything to play again.
“That’s when she got on board.”
Brittany didn’t accept the offer to dress for games, but she attended practices, traveled with the team, sat on the bench and reminded teammates of their good fortune by her mere presence.
Then, three weeks ago, Ripplinger came to her with a plan for Senior Night. In a gesture used before in basketball circles, the Roughriders would let Valley City score uncontested off the opening jump-ball. Then the Hi-Liners would allow Brittany to shoot from layup distance until she was successful.
Happy to be sore
Brittany’s preparation for the shot explains her passion.
On three evenings, she practiced her shooting while her sister, Kylie, held her upright and assistant coach Tyler Nelson offered advice.
“The first night, she must have taken 200 shots and she made two,” Nelson said. “The first few shots didn’t even reach the net. I suggested she use two hands to get more power. But she said no. She wanted to shoot the right way.
“She is one of the most determined kids I’ve ever met. It goes to show why she beat cancer.”
At the second practice, she made about 20 of 100 shots. And, during the practice on the eve of the Valley City game, she made approximately 40 of 100.
However, Nelson wasn’t moved the most by her improvement or her persistence. Instead, it was a text message she sent him after a practice session
“She texted me that when she woke up, her arm was sore,” Nelson said. “She wasn’t complaining. She said she had missed that feeling of being sore from basketball practice.
“Players complain at times about being sore from workouts, and she was missing being sore. She has such a big heart.”
Handling a ‘road bump’
The cruel irony in Brittany’s story is that she conquered leukemia, a form of cancer. It was a treatment in 2009 that prevented her from continuing with basketball. In the 13th of her 20 spinal tap chemotherapy treatments, 98 percent of her body was paralyzed. The reaction is something that happens in less than 1 percent of patients, said her father, Scott Dvorak.
“Without that spinal tap, Brittany would be normal now,” Scott said. “We used basketball as a motivation for her cancer treatments. But that went out the window with the paralysis.
“Now, the only motivation is herself.”
Brittany calls the unlucky 13th treatment “a road bump.”
“My motto is that life’s a ride and anything that comes up during that ride is a road bump,” she said.
She receives physical therapy twice a week to improve her strength and balance for walking. She uses a wheelchair while attending school, but can walk short distances without assistance.
“I wish I could wake up tomorrow and be able to walk, but I know I have to keep working at it,” she said. “I believe it will happen in the future.”
The 18-year-old said she plans to pursue a degree in public relations at a college close to home. She already has a high profile, as a basketball court at Choice Health & Fitness is named after her, courtesy of a $50,000 donation from family members, friends and strangers. Also, Team Brittany is one of the more active groups in the annual Relay for Life fund-raising effort.
‘High-fives all around’
Fellow senior Kaitlin Anderson, who steadied Brittany for her game shot, remembers her as a teammate on their grade school travel team.
“Brittany was the most energetic of our players,” Anderson said. “She was always first in the sprints. It was always high-fives all around with her.
“It was so awesome to help one of my best friends do something she hasn’t done for such a long time. But, more than anything, I’d like to see her run up-and-down the court again.”
Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send email to email@example.com.