Jesuit student overcomes amputation to flourish in track and field

Jesuit student overcomes amputation to flourish in track and field

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Walking the halls of Jesuit High School, Alex Klein has a lot on his mind. Finals are right around the corner, and he's contemplating a summer job. After school his focus turns to track and field as he trains for the district championships. As one of the youngest runners on the team, the deck is stacked against this 15-year-old sophomore.

"It's tough, I know that I'm not going to win," said Alex Klein.

But age may not be the most important reason Klein questions his chances of reaching the podium. Because Alex runs with just one foot. The Blue Jay enters every meet with a high tech blade on his right leg. Every race symbolizing the fight he's waged since childhood.

At the age of eight, Alex lost his right foot to cancer. Doctors attacked the rare form of cancer with a very intense, three-day continuous chemo drip. The treatment exhausted Alex's young body.

"He never complained that he was completely drained. He had no energy, he just laid there with all the nausea and all the other effects," said Alex's father, Bill Klein. "He really didn't eat for almost a week, week and a half."

Doctors informed Alex's parents Bill and Denise they stopped the cancer from spreading but they would have to amputate his leg.

"I was kind of relieved, because I didn't want it to metastasize. I knew it wasn't going to react. I wanted to get it taken care of before it spread. Because this cancer would normally spread into the heart, lungs, and then the brain. I was like let's do it, get it off," said Bill Klein.

Doctors amputated Alex's right leg in August of 2008. At first Alex struggled just to make it around school. His friends helped carries his books to class. It was a tough time for an 8-year-old learning to move in his new world.

Around Thanksgiving, doctors fitted Alex with a prosthetic leg, just in time for a cub scout camping trip.

"There was one tree that had fallen going over a ravine, and all the kids were climbing over the ravine. It was probably about 8 feet up. There was a couple of parents down below ready to catch him at the river bed. He's going across, I'm hanging back getting ready to grab him, there's a couple of parents down below. He made it across, he got down. When we got done, his leg hurt so much he couldn't walk. He's limping back and he says with the greatest look on his face, he raised his hands and said dad I can do anything," said Alex's father.

With the confidence to conquer anything in his way, Alex focused on track and field, and it's numerous disciplines.

"Right now I'm doing the 100-meter, 200-meter, discus, and javelin," said Alex.

Alex trains six days a week to win a state title, but that's not his ultimate goal in track and field. These long days of practice are preparation for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan.

"Mainly it's just something I know I want to do. So that's what motivates me. Getting up every day, that's something I want do, and I have a passion for it," said Alex.

"I've always hoped that Alex would have a passion for something. Grow up and do something meaningful to him," said Alex's mother, Denise Klein. "He thinks it's important to give back to himself in some way. I think this is his way of showing other people with disabilities you can be active too. I'm living my dream."

Alex's heroic battle took on added significance with Denise last summer after doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. The radiation treatment to rid her body of the deadly disease took its toll on Denise, but she had great motivation.

"That's what got me through it every day. If Alex can go through this, certainly I can. He was a child, and did it with such dignity. I knew I had no choice but to push through it," said Denise confidently.

The Klein family never asked why us. They just kept battling, and beating cancer, twice now.

"You just learn to accept things that are thrown at you. I've always come to realize someone else would love to be in your spot. Just be thankful for what you do have, and enjoy it why you do have it," said Bill. 
"It was tough, but I knew she would fight through it. For me at least, I didn't know the severity of it, so I didn't know what was going to happen. For my mom I knew she would fight through it," Alex said with a smile.

Now the fight continues. No matter the hurdles, there's no counting out the kid who once declared "I can do anything."

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