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U-Hi athlete Cassidy Walter always one step ahead

University High senior Cassidy Walter is a soccer player and plans to attend Carroll College in Helena after high school. (Jesse Tinsley)
University High senior Cassidy Walter is a soccer player and plans to attend Carroll College in Helena after high school. (Jesse Tinsley)

In February 2013, when Cassidy Walter felt something pop in her knee during a showcase soccer tournament in Las Vegas, she collapsed on the field.

The tenacious University High School junior never guessed the injury would end her high school playing career.

Misdiagnosed for three months, Walter continued to play before she learned she needed surgery to repair a torn ACL and meniscus. Her senior soccer season was supplanted by crutches, physical therapy and a nine-month recovery.

While many athletes with college playing aspirations might despair, Walter displayed fortitude, say those close to her.

“She has a great attitude, positive throughout the whole thing,” said physical therapist Paula Stiles, describing how Walter became known for her goofy charm, cracking jokes and making everyone laugh, rather than bemoaning her setback or pain.

“She’s definitely one of a kind. I’ve been a therapist for almost 15 years now. She has the best attitude of any patient I’ve ever had,” said Stiles, who works at U-District Physical Therapy. “She’s a little bit goofy. She’s always making jokes. There’s never a negative moment with her.”

It’s an attitude Walter has cultivated for years.

Born with a congenital hearing impairment, Walter uses a hearing aid and reads lips. If her hair shields the hearing aid, many people don’t realize it because she compensates so well.

“My hearing impairment prepared me for the knee injury. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I have a nice life and I’m lucky to have family and friends who care about me,” said Walter, adding, “I’ve been in normal classes my whole life. I’m grateful for all the technology we have today.”

Walter has used a transcriptionist to capture what’s going on in class, for example, crucial for times when she can’t see the lips of whoever is talking, such as when a teacher turns to write on the board.

Bronwynn Shew, who transcribed Walter’s high school classes for two years, said this means Walter is constantly multitasking.

“She makes the challenges she deals with look easy,” said Shew. “Cassidy is one of the most determined people I’ve ever met. She maintains a balance and has a can-do attitude. She always shoots for the best.”

Over her high school career, Walter earned a 3.95 GPA taking numerous Advanced Placement courses while playing varsity and club soccer. The senior, who hopes to study something in the biomedical or science fields, also participated in numerous volunteer activities, including working at her physical therapy office for several months as part of her senior project.

“Cassidy is so self-motivated, driven,” said Stiles, describing how Walter anticipated needs without being asked, out-performing most of their college interns. “She’s one step ahead. She’s a motivated individual.”

That motivation has paid off. Though her injury prevented Walter from playing soccer her senior year, she signed to play at Carroll College this fall.

“I’m proud of how far I’ve come,” said Walter. “For taking AP classes, for not letting my hearing impairment or knee stop me from the dreams I want to pursue.”