By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
ARLINGTON — Later today, Arlington senior Lexi Sarver will try for a coveted championship at the Class 4A state track and field championships in Tacoma.
But regardless of the outcome, Sarver is already a winner in a personal bout with much higher stakes.
Sarver, a discus thrower and three-time state meet participant, was born with neuroblastoma, an extremely rare form of cancer in children, many of them infants. In Sarver’s case, she was stricken at birth. She was diagnosed at one month, underwent surgery at one year to remove a large tumor from her stomach, and endured chemotherapy during the next five years before finally being declared a cancer survivor.
For Sarver and her family, it is a remarkable story of faith and perseverance. Because when you’ve experienced a life-or-death struggle with a vicious and sometimes fatal disease, the drama of sports begins to pale.
“Cancer is a huge thing to overcome,” Sarver said. In her everyday life today, and no matter the difficulty, “I always just say, ‘OK, I can overcome this.’ Because (beating cancer) has given me the mentality that I can always accomplish what I want to accomplish.”
Her memories of the illness are sketchy, which is perhaps a blessing. Most vivid are the hospital trips, where she had to drink a syrupy liquid before getting x-rays of her abdomen.
“I remember asking my mom, ‘Why are they doing this?’ And she said, ‘You’re sick and you need to get better.’ And I remember saying, ‘OK, Mom, I promise to get better this time.’ I’d say that before every visit because I really didn’t like the hospital and I didn’t want to go back.”
Sarver continues to have yearly check-ups, including blood tests, but she remains cancer free. These days, she said, “(cancer) is not a big part of my life anymore. It happened and I remember it, but I’m completely over it. There are so many other things I can fill my life with now, and I really don’t need to think about it anymore.”
Aside from her early illness, Sarver had an otherwise normal childhood. She took up sports in grade school and became a top basketball player. Good enough, in fact, to make varsity her first three years at Arlington, including two years as a starter.
But her emergence as a track and field standout led her to give up basketball this year. She began throwing the discus as a sophomore and, to everyone’s surprise, qualified for state while coming within a few feet of the school record.
The Arlington record fell in April of this year when Sarver threw 135 feet, 6 inches at the Eason Invitational in Snohomish. It remains the state’s top 4A mark this season.
The state meet always brings together Washington’s top athletes, of course, but one rival in particular likely stands between Sarver and a title. Stanwood’s Kaci Jones has gone head to head with Sarver for the past three years, and that rivalry has been particularly heated this season.
Among state 4A discus throwers to date, Sarver ranks first and Jones is second. But at the Western Conference North and District 1 championships the past two weeks, it was Jones who twice came out on top.
“There’s a pretty good rivalry between the two,” Arlington track coach Judd Hunter said. “They usually trade off in meets, but Kaci’s got her the last two in a row. So Lexi’s ready to get one back.”
James Deaver, who coaches the Stanwood throwers, said Sarver and Jones “kind of go back and forth, and they’ve always competed well. … They bring out the best in each other. When they go against each other, they always throw their best.”
Like Sarver, Jones is a school record holder, having reached 40-91/2 in the shot put. She is close to the school marks in the discus and javelin, and will compete at state in all three events. “She’s hoping to obtain two more school records,” Deaver said of Jones, a senior headed to the University of Pennsylvania on a track and field scholarship.
Sarver, meanwhile, will attend Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, with a combination of athletic and academic scholarships. But first she will try to add the one missing piece to her otherwise glowing track and field résumé — a state championship.
“I don’t even think I can put into words how special that’d be for me,” said Sarver, who finished second a year ago. “That’s my ultimate goal, to be the state champion this year. I’m also hoping for a PR (personal record). I don’t know if I’ll be able to throw a PR at state this year, but a title and a PR would be really nice.”
2A/3A/4A STATE TRACK &FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Where: Mount Tahoma H.S., Tacoma
Today’s schedule: 4:30 p.m.-9:15 p.m.
Today’s key events (who to watch): 4A girls discus, starts 4:35 p.m. (Lexi Sarver, Arlington, Kaci Jones, Stanwood); 3A girls 3,200, 7 p.m. (Katie Bianchini, Glacier Peak); 4A boys shot put, starts 4:40 p.m. (Dan Boyden, Arl., Carey Campbell, Lake Stevens); 4A girls 3,200, 7:30 p.m. (Brooke Kingma, Jackson); 2A girls javelin, starts 4:30 p.m. (Skylar Cannon, Lakewood); 2A girls 3,200, 6:30 p.m. (Rachel Cundy, Lakewood)
Tickets: Today—Adult/student without ASB, $5; Student with ASB, $4; Seniors (62 and up), $4; Children (5 and under), free.