Hailey Danisewicz is running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon for the camp that turned her life around
When she was 14 years old, Hailey Danisewicz walked up to her parents and told them she decided to cut off her left leg.
She had battled bone cancer for more than a year, rendering the leg all but useless. “I had my leg,” Danisewicz says, “but it wasn’t my leg.”
Now 22, Danisewicz says the decision greatly improved her quality of life. Prior to finding she had cancer in her lower leg at age 12, she was an active child who loved basketball and volleyball. Cancer took those away from her. But the amputation and prosthetic that replaced her leg didn’t bring those back.
“It was really hard at the time,” the Northwestern University human development major recalled after class in early March. “I was in middle school, and middle school just sucks as it is, so that was tough. But from the day I was diagnosed I adopted an attitude of – whatever we can do to take care of this, let’s do it so I can get on with my life.”
She says the cancer and prosthetic defined her at a time when kids are trying to find out who they are. Though Danisewicz says she had an amazing support system, she still felt isolated, like she was the only person in the world going through the struggles she was facing. Then her doctor told her about the One Step Camp for kids with cancer.
“I didn’t want to go at all, but my parents made me,” she says. “Within the first couple hours fell in love with the camp and all the people there. I found a second home.”
Danisewicz met other kids just like her, kids with prosthetics, in wheelchairs, kids who weren’t going to recover. “They were the ones who inspired me and reminded me of all the things I could still do,” she says.
She met a counselor there, Colleen McGrath, with whom she forged an immediate bond. “Everyone there knows her. She’s one of those people you can always count on for a laugh and she reached out to me right away.”
Danisewicz has returned to One Step every year since, the last two as a counselor. She couldn’t get back to doing what she wanted to do on the basketball or volleyball courts, but as a sophomore at Northwestern, struggling with the transition to college life, she turned to sports again. This time it was the triathlon. She fell in love with the race, found a new level of confidence, and a new outlet.
Now Danisewicz is using that love of sports to give back to the organization and the person that gave so much to her, running the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon for Team One Step, which raises money to send children to the camp. She didn’t plan to take on a marathon for several years, but cancer has a way of changing plans.
Colleen, who beat pancreatic cancer as a child, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer last April.
“When I first heard about it,” Danisewicz says, “I didn’t know what to do, and I decided to go for a run. I remember running longer and harder than I ever had in my life, and thinking, ‘If I can make this hurt as much as possible, maybe that will take a little bit away from Colleen.’”
On Oct. 13, she’ll run longer and harder still, each stride spurred in part by a trip to a camp years ago.