By Nicole Minier
CHURUBUSCO — Churubusco girls basketball player Stacia Fester was recently selected as the U.S. Marines Athete of the Week and also named all-conference in the Northeast Corner Conference.
Her freshman year, she didn’t even know if she would be able to participate in athletics.
Fester underwent corrective surgery for scoliosis in 2013. She was a three-sport athlete in junior high, but had to quit everything except for basketball due to the severity of her condition.
Fans at Churubusco’s games likely wouldn’t have noticed Fester struggled with back pain, as she continued to play with tenacity — diving on the floor for loose balls and leading the team in many statistical categories.
“Sometimes it takes her a little longer to get up, but she’s never used her back as an excuse,” said Dusty Beucler, Churubusco head coach.
Fester said she used biofreeze and took pain killers before her games so she wasn’t in pain during the games, but the pain would set in the following day, or even hours after the game.
She began having back pain in middle school and received her diagnosis in July 2011.
The scoliosis cased a 44-degree curvature in her back, causing her to be confined to a back brace for 16 hours a day — for 14 months.
She underwent a five-hour surgery in 2013, in which doctors attached two 14-inch titanium rods and 20 screws into her spine.
Scoliosis isn’t new to the Fester family, as her mother, Jodi, has the condition with a 27-percent curvature. Jodi stayed by her daughter’s side for six days in the hospital.
“I cried every morning and every evening,” Jodi Fester said. “She was in so much pain — it was the hardest time ever as a mom.”
Stacia has a twin sister, Keely, who does not have scoliosis.
Prior to her surgery, Fester also competed in track and volleyball. She attempted to continue those sports after the procedure, but the pain was unbearable.
This year, Fester led the team in with 12.7 points per game, 2.5 steals and 1.8 assists. She also was second on the team in blocks (.4) and third in rebounds (3.6).
Her junior year, Fester averaged 6.5 points and 1.7 rebounds per game.
“The support from everyone has been amazing,” Fester said. “Whenever people saw me in the paper the always congratulated me for it, and whenever family and friends saw me play, they always let me know what a great player I’ve turned into.
“Most people were just amazed that after everything I’ve been through, I’ve still been able to play. And honestly, it shocked me everyday that I was still able to play.”
Fester said her coaches’ positivity is what helped her push forward.
“I was always so hard on myself, so my coach was very good at giving me reassurance, letting me know I’ve worked hard enough to earn my right to play.”
Fester was a freshman when coach Beucler was in his first year as head coach.
“Honestly, she never really talked about the surgery and she never really wanted it brought up,” Beucler said. “She’s a great kid.”
Beucler said he will never forget the night she stuck around to shoot, which she often did, and he told her she needed to “finish up and go home.”
“Her response was simple and will always stick with me — ‘coach, I am home,’” Beucler said.
Beucler understands back pain all-too-well, as he’s had two back surgeries of his own. He ruptured discs from playing basketball.
“When I first met her and found out everything that had happened, what she’d gone through, I was blown away,” said Beucler. “I know how hard it is to have back surgery. If she needed an excuse not to be able to do something, there would be no doubt she could have one. But she has never once said a word about it. It’s never been a crutch.”
Fester is the team’s lone all-conference player in the Northeast Corner Conference. The list was announced last week.
Fester will attend Indiana Wesleyan University in the fall, where she will room with Columbia City basketball player Chelsea Pettigrew. Neither girl will play basketball in college, but will focus on academics.
Fester plans to major in biology pre-med, with goals to become a physician’s assistant, where she can specialize in orthopedics and work with other spine patients.
“Everyone was so nice to me in the building and encouraging when I was struggling with knowing I have to get the surgery,” Fester said. “And I love looking at all my X-rays and stuff, and my physician’s assistant was my favorite person there. She was very encouraging, she was so happy, and she made an impact on my life. That’s what I want to do for other people.”
Fester ranks in the top 10 in her class and has a GPA of 3.9. She’s active in National Honor Society, student council, SADD and Spanish Club. She’s also involved in her church, volunteering with grace ministries, which serves children with disabilities.