14-year-old amputee and cancer survivor winning on and off the field in Ohio

Champion Village’s champion, Skylar Scarnecchia
Updated: Feb. 27, 2020 at 11:57 PM EST
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CHAMPION VILLAGE, Ohio (WOIO) - Like all high school track athletes, Skylar Scarnecchia, of Champion Village, is prepping for the year.

Unlike other athletes, she’s doing it on a prosthetic leg. “This is my second track season using it, and I’m used to it," said the 8th-grader from Champion Middle School.

Barely 14 years old, Scarnecchia has dealt with more than some people do in a lifetime.

In 4th grade she developed foot pain that would not go away. Doctors first thought it was plantar fasciitis, but when the pain would not stop she got an x-ray. It revealed a tumor.

At first it was believed to be benign, a biopsy proved otherwise. “It came back as stage-4 cancer.”

Further testing revealed she also had cancer in her lungs. “You can’t really process it. You can’t wrap your mind around ‘I just got cancer.’ It’s horrible.”

After coming to grips with the diagnosis, Scarneccia dug in for a fight. Her lung treatments went well, but after three months of chemotherapy the tumor in her foot was not shrinking. From there she had two choices, surgically remove the tumor, or amputate her leg below the knee. For an athletic kid, the choice was easy. “If we tried to remove the tumor it would make my foot dead. I would not be able to move it and function my toes.” Amputation was the only road back to competing.

Scarnecchia leaned into her rehabilitation. She did 5th grade from home while going through her chemotherapy and physical therapy. Eventually she broke though, she was back on her feet, even running around. It was time to get back to school and back in action.

6th grade basketball was challenging. She could not do much with her new leg, but kept improving. Now, she barely notices it. “I can do everything every other girl can do, I’m just not as fast as I used to be.”

Her 8th grade team just won their league championship, with Skylar leading the charge. “Sky was a really big part. Once we started the playoffs, she took her game up to a whole new level," said Champion Village Middle School Basketball Coach Joe Harris. “It was amazing to watch. She rebounded everything around the rim, she was the leading scorer in the championship game.”

2019 was the first season she picked up track. It is the sport she wants to chase the Paralympics in. A new sport is always challenging, doing it with the blade leg used by amputees adds one more obstacle. “She started off trying to figure out this blade leg, it was a struggle last season. It was really tough at the beginning of the season,” said Champion Valley Middle School Track Coach Lindsay Willforth. “We did a lot of research and came up with a lot of things we can do to help her.”

Scarnecchia kept improving as the year went on, and is now looking forward to her second season in the blade leg. Willforth is excited. “Now that she has a year under her belt she has learned so much and we’ve made the adjustments. This year should be smooth sailing.”

As if she had not experienced enough, in September of last year Scarnecchia was in an off-road vehicle accident. Riding with two other girls, the vehicle rolled over and landed on her prosthetic leg. Having a prosthetic leg may have saved her life. “If it wasn’t for that, my leg would have either bled out and I would have died, or I would have lost my leg anyways. I was just destined to lose my leg," she said with a smile. She sustained a lot of bruises and cuts, but was able to detach her leg and crawl away from the accident.

Scarnecchia has now been in remission for three years. Her positive attitude is inspiring and impactful. So much so, that she was awarded the Courage Award from the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission earlier this year. “I’ve learned more from her than I’ve taught her," said Harris.

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