To watch video clips of Katrina Gallic talking about the various aspects of her inspiring story, hover your mouse over the photo above and click on the white dots.
BROOMFIELD — There is little doubt Katrina Gallic has earned her stripes in the throwing ring.
After three seasons of work, the undersized Holy Family senior is finishing her career as one of the best in Class 3A in the shot put and discus. Gallic has the opportunity to claim a top-five finish in each event at this weekend’s state track meet, which begins Thursday at Jefferson County Stadium in Lakewood. But in the scheme of things, any potential medals the thrower earns are really secondary to what she’s really gotten out of her time in the ring.
After a congenital disorder left her paralyzed for a spell, then hobbled, just having the opportunity to compete is in many ways reward enough.
“Honestly, there were times when I was laying in a hospital bed that I never thought I was going walk again,” she said. “So being at this point in my athletic career is almost unthinkable.”
Gallic was nearly out of any game and potentially bound for a wheelchair due to a malady known as a spinal cavernoma. The disorder is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the brain or spine that can lay dormant and without symptom for years. The vessels tend to be weaker than healthy ones and have a greater chance of rupture or aneurysm. Gallic’s did just that in September of 2009, her freshman year of high school.
She had noticed a burning sensation in her legs on a Friday afternoon, when she recorded her career-best cross country time at a Tigers meet. By late that night, the lesion in the cavernoma caused her spine to swell, leaving the teen almost completely immobile below her waist, unable to do more than wiggle her big toe.
“I literally went from running a 5K to being paralyzed from the bellybutton down within 24 hours,” she said.
The incident was a nightmare scenario for the Gallic family, even more so since all but Katrina’s older sister were back in New Jersey. The emergency came just weeks after Tim Gallic had taken over as Holy Family principal and the same weekend he had returned to the Atlantic Coast to work on selling the family’s house. In the middle of the night, hours after leaving the Front Range, Tim Gallic was alerted to what had happened to his daughter.
“I got a call at 1 o’clock Saturday morning, New Jersey time, from an ER doctor,” Tim Gallic said. “I’ll never forget what he said: ‘Your daughter has a mass on her spine causing a neurological deficit.'”
The medical longhand telling the father his daughter was paralyzed was not the last chilling statement Tim Gallic would digest. Racing across the country that Saturday to his daughter’s bedside, the father was met with one harsh reality after another. One that struck him was when one doctor asked about Katrina’s athletic interests.
“When I told him she was an athlete he said, ‘That’s a shame, because she may never walk again,'” he said.
The doctors’ prognoses were grim, but in the end proved to be off the mark. Gallic was on her feet again two weeks after leaving the hospital, a task doctors expected would take a minimum of two months. And she was back at sports by her sophomore year — something some experts claimed might be impossible.
Even with the leaps she made, Gallic had to adjust to new realities about her life. She fought a severe limp in her right leg, which cut her running career short and hobbled her attempt at playing softball. But that spring Holy Family throws coach Del Bishop believed she still had a place with the Tigers track team. Bishop’s invitation turned out to be life changing. Not only did Gallic excel at shot and discus, the disciplines proved key in her recovery, in particular keeping her limp in check.
“Going out for throwing has been an amazing blessing in disguise,” she said. “It takes amazing body control and strength. … For someone battling with paralysis it is a very hard thing to do, but my work has paid me back immensely.”
Gallic has hit her stride in the events, entering state ranked sixth in 3A shot put and seventh in discus. She still has some lingering physical limitations. The decreased strength in her right leg is still an issue and forces her to wear a brace on her ankle. And she does not have the full range of motion to execute the typical shot and discus throwing motions. But she has overcome many of these troubles by adopting unorthodox throwing styles.
At the state competition, it is certain Gallic will be the only discus competitor taking one rotation instead of two. And she will be the lone shot putter facing the pit when she begins her attempt. Bishop fully admits, given Gallic’s sprinter frame and physical challenges, what she has been able to accomplish has been mind blowing.
“I think if you take all classifications in Colorado in shot put, she’s in the top 20,” the coach said. “It’s amazing, because she is so tiny and is what I call a front loader (in her throwing style).”
Even with all Gallic has accomplished, she continues to live in the shadow of paralysis. The spinal cavernoma was inoperable and potentially could rupture again, permanently costing her the use of her legs. But presently, the senior really does not have time to worry about trifles such as congenital disorders — there is nothing she can do about it one way or another. Besides, she is too busy chasing down top places in the shot put and discus and maybe a school record.
On that point, Gallic has high hopes. She would relish the chance to improve on her seventh-place finish in shot put from her junior year and maybe, if things go right, set a new school record. But even if disaster strikes and the senior is aced out of a place on the podium, she won’t shed many tears. After all she has been through, being in the ring is not such a bad place to be.
“It means so much, I honestly can’t properly put it into words,” she said. “It’s an experience that has given me so much strength.”
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