This isn’t a sob story.
The tear-jerker, string-quartet scenes don’t fit into Alysoune Coleman’s life. Soccer, honors classes, and track with older sister, Savannah, take up more than enough of the Desert Ridge freshman’s time.
Alysoune runs quite well, in fact, having qualified for the Division I state meet next month in the 400 meters, the 800 and both the 4x400 and 4x800 relays with Savannah, who’s also qualified for state in both the 100 and 300 hurdles.
Long-ago encouragement towards sports by their doctors has led them to track, soccer, hockey, basketball, gymnastics, taekwondo, camping, and (until recently) riding dirt bikes.
“There’s nothing she can’t do,” Savannah said of her younger sister. “She’s definitely taken advantage of that.”
But Alysoune can’t run away from cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that affects her lungs and digestive system, of which there is not yet a permanent cure.
So why hide from it? She doesn’t. She runs and kicks and lives life like everyone else, maybe moreso, but if you didn’t already know she had it, don’t expect her to voluntarily come clean.
“I usually just tell people I have asthma,” she said.
With a mix of humor and forthright in her approach, she’ll provide details, ins-and-outs of what she deals with because of CF, which causes the body to produce abnormal amounts of mucous and subsequent effects that prevent it from retaining vitamins and nutrients.
She’s spent weeks at a time in the hospital with colds or pneumonia because her body can’t shed itself of viruses like most of us. She takes 15 pills per day, and consumes 6,000-7,000 calories most days because her body only absorbs 25 to 30 percent of her vitamin and nutrient intake. She does IV bags of liquids and “formula,” at home or while she sleeps, plus salt tablets and extra water for hydration.
But not even the family’s previous intakes of eight gallons of milk and six boxes of cereal (down from 15) per week, or 50 pounds of rice per month, stuck.
In 2006, she still hovered between 70 and 80 pounds, and it was “a celebration” in mother Kathleen Coleman’s words, when Alysoune cracked the century mark in weight two years ago.
Morsels of all this have been on display during track meets and soccer matches: a G-tube that attaches to her stomach (similar to using an IV bag), a nap on the bench during a soccer match when a fever arose, or occasionally bowing out of a race. She has breathing treatments multiple times each day, a vest she wears around the house that vibrates to help jostle the mucous.
To her, it’s just life; different than most, better than some, worse than others.
So don’t cry for her or her family. Don’t prop them up as an example when things around your life are difficult, or you don’t feel well, or feel as if you aren’t good enough to do something even though Alysoune can do it.
It only irritates.
“I don’t really care about announcing it or anything,” the 15-year-old said. “When you go around telling people everything about what you have, that gets annoying. It’s not something I want out there so I can collect sympathy cards.”
Supplies, pills, extra inhalers, hospitals and contingency plans have been part of the Colemans’ daily life since Alysoune was born. So, too, has doctors telling them to stay as active as possible, and thus, a familial continuation of sports.
Kathleen played basketball at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. Atwood Coleman ran track at Southern Louisiana. His daughters following him around the track, and, later, the hockey rinks in Oklahoma. It’s how the sisters fell for sports.
Savannah, now a junior, was 3 years old when she began to hang around tracks with her father in Georgia and she was running by age 6. A 4-year-old Alysoune cried and wailed because she couldn’t keep up with her sister in the 400 meter. But she kept doing it because her big sister did it.
The trend was underway.
“Sometimes it bugged me, when I was eight or 10,” Savannah said. “It’s also taught me how to live with others and be a better role model.”
Savannah wasn’t enthused about soccer, but when the family moved to the far East Valley 10 years ago so Atwood could work at Raytheon as an engineer, a soccer tryout sign along the median on a street led to a phone call. Two hours later, 11-year-old Alysoune was at Freestone Park. She led the Jaguars offensively this past season as a freshman despite missing chunks of time with illnesses.
In February 2010, Alysoune contracted pneumonia and suffered for three weeks in the hospital, which shut down her training and conditioning for track season. She eventually returned to the team in late March having not run in months. By June, she took third place in the country in the Youth division (7th and 8th grade) of the Junior Olympics.
On Wednesday, the elder sister admitted with a smile that the younger “is faster than me.” They’re allowed five minutes of playful yapping post-race before the encouragement resumes. But competition between these two gets shoved aside quickly. Their favorite moments cited were running the relays together as the team’s bookends. Or crossing the finish line at exactly the same time during the 200 preliminaries at a meet earlier this season.
“We’re best friends and I’m very protective of her,” Savannah said.
“If I could have anything it’d be crossing the line at the same time,” Alysoune said a few minutes later. “If it’s 1-2, I could care less who wins, it’s not about being competitive. On or off the track, I couldn’t tell her to do anything more or better than what she’s been.”
The unanswered question to all this is, “For how long?” The future with a disease that has no cure, is, of course, an ultra-sensitive subject. If it ever was a subject. An “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” philosophy has taken over the family psyche.
It stuck at birth. It held strong when Alysoune wanted to play sports. It didn’t waver during those three weeks of hospital-bound pneumonia in 2010. Or two more weeks during Christmas and New Year’s of 2011-2012. Or during the 30-40 school days she misses on average.
“There’s no black wall we see,” Savannah said. “She’s going to graduate, maybe try for the Olympics, go to college and be an athletic trainer. No one ever thinks about her not being there. The parents have never doubted or not been calm, so neither are we.”
The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s website cites the late-30s as the median life expectancy of people with CF, but the Colemans aren’t about to gasp over a statistic.
A lifetime of her parents’ “When it’s time to worry, we’ll let you know” mantra has stuck.
“It’s really not a sob story,” Alysoune said. “It’s that people don’t know what they can until they try. They need to take it as, ‘What can I do?’ More people can do all these same things, and should. You can spend all your money on medicines and your life sitting inside, or spend it playing.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.