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Throwing sees her through

U-Hi’s Kelsey Wardsworth nearly lost her vision to disease, but her dreams are back on track

You can’t blame Kelsey Wardsworth for wanting to throw things.

Wardsworth has faced, and overcome, more than her share of challenges already in her young life. The kinds of challenges that make one want to throw things. Heavy things.

Things like, say, hammers.

“I love throwing the hammer,” the University High senior explains. “You have to put everything you have into it. When I’m done with practice, I’m always so calm. I get out all my aggressions out.”

She laughed at a thought.

“I think I throw better when I’m a little mad going in,” she giggled.

Wardsworth must have had a little mad on last week during the Mooberry Relays at Whitworth University. In that meet, the only local competition to include her specialty, she broke her own personal best by more than five feet on her winning throw of 98 feet, 3 1/4 inches.

That throw is the third best in the state this season, five feet and change out of second place.

“When I started this year I was throwing about 70 feet,” she said. “Now I’m throwing right at 100 feet. My goal is to be throwing 140 by the end of the year.”

The throws captain for the Titans girls track and field team coached by her mother, Liz Wardsworth, is just glad to compete again. For a year it was taken from her.

“Kelsey had Graves’ disease,” her mother explained. “It was diagnosed when she was in the eighth grade and it got really bad.

“Thankfully it’s in remission now.”

Graves’ disease is a type of hyperthyroidism – a condition generally found in adults and rarely in children. In Wardsworth the condition rapidly affected her eyesight.

“She was going blind,” Liz Wardsworth explained. “She lost her peripheral vision and her eyesight was like looking through two tunnels.”

The irony of the situation was not lost on the family. Kelsey Wardsworth has always dreamed of becoming an artist and photographer.

“It just kills you when your child comes to you and asks you ‘What am I going to do now?’ ” Liz Wardsworth said. “The doctors told us that we could allow the disease to run its course and hope she would get her sight back or we could go with a radical course of treatment. … We opted for the treatment.”

The treatments themselves were no cakewalk. Liz Wardsworth still cringes recalling the weekly ordeal.

The problem, she said, is that these radical treatments were designed to treat adults. Adjusting dosages for a young girl preparing to start high school took some calculation. When it’s your child, you sometimes go on faith.

“They put me on steroids that made me gain a lot of weight,” Kelsey Wardsworth said. “The drugs made my heart race all the time. I would sit and be quiet and it would still beat at about 200 beats per minute. They were afraid to let me run or lift weights or anything strenuous like that for fear of a heart attack.”

The treatment regimen worked. Her eyesight came back and the disease went into remission. Wardsworth was able to again embrace her passion for art and photography.

“The thing that amazes me is that, since she got her sight back, Kelsey has an incredible vision as a photographer,” Liz Wardsworth said. “She sees things that the rest of us miss.”

Wardsworth is a staff photographer for The Spokesman-Review’s youth edition, The Vox. Her dream of becoming a professional photographer is within her grasp.

Meanwhile, a means of getting to that dream opened up in the form of a little-known track and field event: the hammer throw.

“I used to just do the shot put and discus, but I’m kind of on the small side for both of those events,” Kelsey Wardsworth said. “I went to Ironwood, a summer thrower’s camp and they were demonstrating the hammer, so I gave it a try. I loved it from the first time I did it.”

It’s a shared love affair.

“I throw the hammer and I still compete in Masters meets,” Liz Wardsworth said. “I was so delighted that she fell in love with the same event I love. It’s a mother-daughter thing.”

Because so few meets are equipped to handle the hammer throw, in which competitors swing a heavy metal ball suspended from, well, a leash, the event is rarely in the limelight.

“There are hammer events that I can compete in on the weekends,” Wardsworth said. “They have them all over. The cool thing is that the WIAA doesn’t count those meets against the number of meets that I’m allowed to do for school.”

Wardsworth discovered at a meet in the Portland area that she’s on the radar of college track and field coaches.

“I had the coach from Mount Hood come up to me after the meet and congratulate me by name,” she said. “It was so cool that he knew who I was.”

The family love affair with the hammer throw took on an added dimension this season.

Liz Wardsworth is busy preparing to take her national boards, meaning she has no time to adequately coach her daughter in her specialty.

That duty falls to Wardsworth’s father, Alan, the highly successful boys and girls jumps coach at Central Valley.

“We have a divided family,” Wardsworth laughs. “My dad coaches at CV and my mom coaches at U-Hi. I compete for U-Hi and my little sister is a high jumper at Bowdish. She wants to go to CV next year and jump for my dad.

“Around the house mom and I wear U-Hi sweats. Dad and my sister wear CV stuff. It’s a little hard to explain to my friends when they come by.”

That ability to see things others might miss kicks in here.

“When we compete with CV, I’ll look over and watch the jump area,” Wardsworth said. “I’ll see my dad there, doing what he loves to do – coaching his jumpers. And I’ll see my mom over there doing what she loves to do. It’s so cool to see them do it together.”

Contact Steve Christilaw by e-mail at schristilaw@msn.com