BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — A young gymnast returned to the mat Saturday after spending months fighting for her life.
Larissa Schafer is a 9-year-old gymnast. But she had to put what she loved on hold when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor earlier this year — until Saturday.
Not only was Larissa diagnosed with that tumor in February, she had to endure months of radiation and chemotherapy, so she was too weak to compete in gymnastics.
Last month she ended her chemo and had her first competition back at it Saturday. But her family says its the work off the mat this little girl is now doing that makes them the most proud.
Standing at 4-foot-3, there’s a lot of strength in this 9-year-old girl.
“She’s a great kid. She’s always smiling, she’s supportive back to her team,” Larissa’s mother, Kelly Schafer, said.
Taking the floor for warmups at Kennedy High School in Bloomington, it’s the day Larissa or “Rissy” has been dreaming of ever since her world turned upside down in February.
“She loves gymnastics maybe more than anything else in the world and to not be able to do it, to have something come into your life and take that away from you,” gymnastics coach Emily Wood said.
Rissy had been feeling sick, so her mom Kelly took her to the doctor. It was cancer.
“How? How does it happen? Why?” Kelly Schafer said.
She had surgery to remove a tumor. And for the next seven months, spent weeks in and out of the hospital for chemo. Still, she came to practice whenever she could.
“She would bring her ankle weights to the hospital while she was getting chemo so that she could keep up as best she could,” Wood said.
And for her birthday, she didn’t want toys. Rissy asked for a fundraiser.
“To have money to give to the hospital,” Rissy said. “Because I like raising awareness.”
Today Rissy is cancer-free. With each move she makes in her first competition since her diagnosis, they are a reminder of how hard she fought. And how her team is there every step of the way.
“Not sure how well she’ll do today or not but for us, it’s not about that at all. It’s just seeing her get out there,” Kelly Schafer said.
Rissy is also collecting two piece pajamas with buttons in the front as well as children’s books in Spanish, because she wishes she would have had those things when she was in the hospital.
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