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Conquering the Unknown: A Young Athlete's Comeback Story  

Nate Wek

This story is from the November 2022 SDPB Magazine. See the full issue HERE.

One must face many hurdles when entering high school, like new faces, more complex classes, and thoughts of the future. In addition to these frightful barriers, one Leola student had to face the loss of movement in her lower body. A once heavily involved student-athlete encountered a medical mystery leaving her in a wheelchair for months. Her goal was to walk for her middle-school graduation, and she was able to do that and so much more. The story of Ashtyn Hadlewick, her rehabilitation, and her persistent joy throughout the journey is truly inspiring.

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Ashtyn is a current freshman at Leola High School. Last year, before a significant decline in health, she was involved in numerous sports. Ashtyn explains, "I was just a normal middle schooler, just playing sports like basketball, volleyball, and track. I did cross country last year, and then in November, it kind of all went downhill." What started as some difficulty breathing during a basketball game progressed into an asthma attack that landed Ashtyn in the ER. She was then diagnosed with pneumonia. Ashtyn was treated for it but was still having trouble breathing. Then began the chest pains. Ashtyn's pulse would skyrocket any time she stood, going from 70 to 180. This new development prompted one final ER visit resulting in her being admitted to the hospital for a couple of weeks to run tests and try medications. After two weeks, Ashtyn left the hospital in a wheelchair, unable to walk or stand.

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Ashtyn stayed in a wheelchair for about three months. She started a Telemed program online through a specialist in Dallas. Through the coaching provided by the Dallas company and blood pressure medication, Ashtyn could stand again. Standing was the first of many goals Ashtyn set for herself so she could eventually walk across the stage for her middle school graduation. She began to use a walker in school, taking breaks to refrain from getting dizzy or passing out. Eventually, Ashtyn was able to get rid of the walker completely. Then she set the goal to spend the summer working towards involvement in sports again.

Ashtyn was diagnosed with POTS or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. Her specific condition was Hyper-POTS, meaning her heart rate would rise substantially with any change of position. Ashtyn kept hope and remained headstrong. Not only was she able to walk across the stage for her 8th-grade graduation, but she is back playing volleyball. "That was my main goal. Volleyball has always been my favorite sport so over the summer I was just like, 'I really hope that I'm going to be able to gain all my strength back to be able to get back to volleyball,' and here I am" says Ashtyn.

Ashtyn's strength and joy throughout her difficult journey were noticed by many around her. Doug Hatlwick, Ashtyn's father, says she was a rock throughout the whole situation. He says, "She was way stronger than what I could have ever been with what she went through. She was kind of the one that helped us keep going." Among those who noticed Ashtyn's fortitude was her coach, Leesa Ware, stating, "She represents what the Leola/Frederick community as a whole stands for. Just her strength, her passion, her willingness to succeed. She's just truly, in all of our eyes, is a true warrior.”

Ashtyn's story empowers communities, athletes, and anyone who may be struggling with an obstacle in their life. Ashtyn encourages those saying, "Just keep working, work towards the goal. You're going to have your bad days, but it'll get better if you keep working and find something that you're willing to work for."

Nate Wek is currently the sports content producer and sports and rec beat reporter for South Dakota Public Broadcasting. He is a graduate of South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism Broadcasting and a minor in Leadership. From 2010-2013 Nate was the Director of Gameday Media for the Sioux Falls Storm (Indoor Football League) football team. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the News and Sports Director of KSDJ Radio in Brookings, SD. Nate, his wife Sarah, and two kids Braxan and Jordy, live in Canton, SD.
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