Caitie Newman: A painful senior year

Three weeks after the athletic season began last September, Falcon senior Caitie Newman woke up to discover her fingers swollen, fluid in her knees and an aching feeling all over.

“I thought it was going to work itself out, but instead it just got worse,” Newman recalled.

When she fell on the volleyball court once, it hurt to get back up. Coach Tim Durbin was aware young people sometimes were afflicted with a type of arthritis; a doctor prescribed medication but it didn’t work. She kept playing, but not up to her full potential.

It was not an auspicious start to what had promised to be a sterling final high school year playing — and excelling — at volleyball, basketball and tennis.

Eventually, a detailed battery of medical tests revealed Newman had a form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis prevalent among young girls called polyarticular, meaning the disease affects more than five joints.

To deal with it, every Saturday night for three months she injected herself in the thigh.

“On Sunday mornings I felt lousy,” she said.

Eventually doctors had her on an eight-pill regimen to alleviate the self-inflicted mental hassle of the shots.

It would have been easier on everyone if she had refrained from athletics — but then, that isn’t her style.

“Everything I do is geared to sports, I have such a passion for it,” she noted.

Newman added that her coaches, teammates, teachers and family were totally supportive.

Despite her medical travails, Newman was selected by the Washington State Coaches Association as a basketball “All State” participant.

She was the Lady Falcon’s leading scorer for the second year in a row, second in Cascade Conference and third in 3A division with an 18.1 regular season average, plus 10.3 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 4.3 steals and 2.9 blocks — she even managed a school record 33 three-pointers.

Spanish teacher Jennifer Gochenour found Newman to be an extremely thoughtful, empathetic student who brightened up the morning with a huge, sincere smile.

“Even when she’s not feeling well, as has been the case often this year, she puts out her fullest effort and maintains her positive attitude,” Gochenour said.

How does she feel now?

“I take Flintstones and Tums for the calcium,” she answered. “I’m good to go.”

Good news for tennis coach Tom Kramer — Newman and partner Janelle Iverson have a strong chance of making it to state this season.

Newman has lived on Whidbey most of her life. She was home schooled until the fourth grade when she entered the public system. Competitive to a fault, she began playing basketball at 6, played through middle and high school — “I was pushed around a lot as a freshman; it was war on the court” — and hopes to snag a scholarship at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey.

“I want to find the school that best fits my family’s financial situation,” she said. “A scholarship would help a lot.”

Newman plans to major in business, focusing on sports management.

She has her favorite subjects — Spanish and contemporary world problems — but admits that math isn’t her bag. “I went through algebra and trig, but I can’t get over that. Using letters in math doesn’t make sense. To me, anyway.”

Gochenour’s class, however, is different.

“She makes it fun and accessible. We’re learning about Hispanic culture, a relevant topic with the current debate over immigration.”

She’s also a good student — “Caitie’s success in academics is earned through being extremely diligent, organized, focused, and involved in class activities and discussions,” Gochenour said. “In spite of the fact that she is probably one of the busiest students in my class, she often turns projects in early, ahead of schedule!”

Her Spanish teacher took note of her student’s relationship with her sisters. “One thing I appreciate about Caitie is the caring wa she interacts with her numerous siblings. She is kind and patient, and bears the responsibility of being an older sibling with grace and ease rather than resentment about the extra effort required of her.”

Kramer’s course on current events sparks discussions on world affairs. “He’s so knowledgeable that he makes you want to learn more.”

Kramer returned the complement. “It has been my pleasure to coach and teach Caitie for four years,” he said. “I have always found her to be personable, warm, outgoing and big-hearted, very supportive of the team and school.

Caitie is genuine, honest and hard working. Last year she was a key member of the state champion tennis team and is co-captain this season. I’d have to say her only weakness is my wife’s banana bread.”

Newman acknowledged that high school life can be trying, especially for girls. “It’s pretty hectic; sometimes shifting relationships can lead to bad feelings,” she said.

When she feels down, Newman’s esoteric musical tastes encompass country, pop and rap. She loves ice cream and candy and is thankful for sports. “Keeps me in shape,” she laughed. “I’m always trying to improve my diet.”

Her taste in movies runs along familiar lines: “Glory Road,” “Remember the Titans,” “Friday Night Lights” and the b-ball classic, “Hoosiers.”

She loves the moment when the under-appreciated small-town team makes it to the finals in Indianapolis.

“That scene where the coach [Gene Hackman] has his guys measure the distance from the hoop to the floor to show them it’s the same as at home is great.”

Speaking of coaches, Newman admits being sad that her basketball coach, John Pyrtek, wasn’t asked back by the school for next year.

“He was an influential and supportive figure in my life, helping me with my college search,” she said. “And he’s a friend as well.”

The whole experience was painful, but Newman is quite used to overcoming adversity.

All the while, smiling.

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