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Tamaqua cancer survivor used disease for athletic motivation

She was 11 years old and ready to begin sixth grade at the Tamaqua Area Middle School when the diagnosis set her young world spinning out of control.

Alexis Jones had not one, but two cancers - child and adult ovarian cancer.

She missed the entire year of school. The treatment prescribed was three months of chemotherapy.

“I was wiped out,” she said, “Too tired to do anything except throw up every now and then.”

The worst - if that can be said after months of chemotherapy - was yet to come. Jones still needed multiple surgeries.

“The doctors at Lehigh Valley removed an 11 inch mass, one of my ovaries, part of my fallopian tube, part of my small intestine, part of my bowel, and part of my colon,” she explained.

The good news for Jones is that the chemo and surgeries worked.

The Tamaqua High School senior has now been in remissionfor five years.

“I’m on my way to getting there,” she said. “We’re waiting for all my scans to be clean. My last chemo treatment was on Christmas Day, 2017.”

Sometimes a life-threatening disease can become a source of motivation and that’s what it was for Jones when she returned to school in the seventh grade. Up until that point, she was never much interested in athletic participation. But that changed when she decided to run cross country that fall.

“I just wanted to feel normal,” she said, “I had lost 67 pounds fighting the disease and I decided that after so much time spent with no motivation, I needed to push myself to do something.”

Upon entering Tamaqua High School, she decided to do more. In addition to cross country, she joined the track team and the newly formed girls wrestling team - both coached by Jim McCabe.

“Alexis throws the shot put and runs the 400 for us,” said McCabe about Jones’ track events. “She’s a very dedicated athlete. She comes twice a week all year at 6 a.m. to lift weights to make herself stronger. For her, success is not about winning medals or races. She’s all about making herself better every day.”

Jones now intends to add another activity to her extracurricular schedule.

“I’m going to be a power lifter,” she said.

Following graduation next month, Jones is going to attend Cedar Crest College where she intends to major in the field of pediatric health sciences. “I’m also going to continue do all three sports in college,” Jones said. “I love doing all three, but if you ask me which one of them I enjoy the most, that would be wrestling. I used to watch the boys practice and once we got a girls team at Tamaqua, I just knew that was for me.”

Throughout her ordeal and beyond, Jones has been expressing her gratitude to people outside of her family who have helped her during her recovery. She is grateful to the teachers who tutored her when she was home for her entire sixth grade school year and also to her coaches in high school, especially Sam Bonner - the Raiders’ football coach and her early morning lifting coach - and McCabe her track and wrestling coach.

“Coach Bonner has always been there for me and pushed me to make myself stronger,” Jones said. “Coach McCabe has had a great impact on me. He’s been patient with my athletic progress and I’ve learned so much from him these the past four years. He’s been my role model. He made me believe that anything is possible.”

Jones looks at her life with a perspective that is mature beyond her years. She believes that everything she has been through has happened to bring her to where she is today.

“I have no regrets about anything,” she said. “Cancer has made a fighter out of me. It’s motivated me to be a better person and athlete.

“I don’t know what my life would have been like if I never got it, but I’m happy with myself now because I turned a bad thing into a good thing for me.”


ANOTHER NO-NO … Morgan Kelly is making the most of her senior season with the Marian softball team. Kelly - who has struck out well over 600 batters during a brilliant four-year career in the circle - pitched her third no-hitter of the season on Tuesday as the Fillies rolled to a 13-0 victory over Nativity. In the five-inning masterpiece, Kelly racked up 11 strikeouts.


BIG BAT … Mara Levins is in the midst of quite a power surge for the Jim Thorpe softball team. Levins has connected for home runs in five of the last six Olympian games - including a stretch of four consecutive games where she has gone yard. During the recent six-game stretch, she has gone 12-for-21 at the plate with seven homers.


SCHOOL RECORD … Northwestern’s Grace Yost set a school record in the pole vault last weekend at the Zephyr Invitational with a height of 10 feet, 7 inches.


ENDING A DRYSPELL … On Monday afternoon, the Pleasant Valley boys’ tennis team lost to No. 2 seed Parkland in the quarterfinal round of the District 11 team tennis tournament. Despite the setback, the appearance in the tournament for the seventh-seeded Bears ended a string of five consecutive years when they failed to qualify for postseason play.


NINTH-INNING ERUPTION … A look at the final score, might give the impression that Lehighton’s non-league baseball victory over Shenandoah on Friday was a mercy-rule decision. But the Indians’ 19-9 victory was just the opposite of a shortended, mercy-rule contest as the game actuallly went into extra innings. The score is deceiving because the Indians erupted for 10 runs in the top of the ninth inning to break open what had been a tight, back-and-forth contest up to that point.

Tamaqua's Alexis Jones prepares to throw the shot put during Tuesday's meet against Blue Mountain. Jones, who had to overcome a pair of different cancers in elementary school, is a three-sport athlete for the Blue Raiders. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO