CHEYENNE – Katherine Etchepare pulls up the most recent X-ray of her spine with just a few quick touches and swipes on her phone screen.
The X-ray is jarring.
Scoliosis has made the Cheyenne Central senior’s spine severely S-shaped. It curves sharply to the right and then left before snaking back to the center just above her hips.
Etchepare was first diagnosed with scoliosis in early elementary school, and the condition has only gotten worse. On Nov. 4, Etchepare will have two rods surgically inserted into her spine at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora.
Etchepare hasn’t let her spine’s two 64-degree curvatures keep her from being active.
Initially, Etchepare’s spine curved to one side, which threw her off-balance and made some gymnastics skills difficult. She developed the second curve, which balanced her out and allowed her to find success in competitive figure skating.
She eventually found her way onto Central’s cross-country team when her father, John Etchepare, told her she had to try at least one school-sponsored sport during her freshman year.
Etchepare will run the last cross-country meet of her high school career at the Class 4A state meet Friday in Casper. The meet was slated for Saturday, but was moved because of expected inclement weather.
Etchepare considers the aches and pains she has in her back no different than those endured by any other athlete. She feels like her spine has only had a negligible impact on her performance.
“When my back tightens, my chest tightens, and I feel like I can’t breathe as deeply,” she said. “I’ve had this for so long that I don’t know what it would be like to breathe without it.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people who have had the surgery I’m going to, and they told me you don’t know what scoliosis is taking away until afterward and you get back into your activities. That’s when you learn how things are supposed to feel.”
Etchepare and her family started seriously looking at corrective options two years ago when they were told one of the curves was moving toward her heart.
“Some people’s scoliosis stops at a certain point, but mine hasn’t,” the 18-year-old said. “The team of doctors I have said we need to stop it, or it’s only going to get worse and really affect my quality of life later on.”
She knew the surgery was necessary, but needed time to figure out how to best fit it into her schedule. Etchepare will be hospitalized for at least a week after surgery. She’ll miss at least another three weeks of school once she is sent home.
“The silver lining of COVID-19 is that a lot of my classes are online already, so I’m not going to be missing that school work,” Etchepare said. “I’m just going to miss that face-to-face interaction. It has all kind of fallen into place.”
The recovery window is six months, so there’s a chance Etchepare could compete during the outdoor track season. She wants to pin a bib on her red jersey again after Friday, but Etchepare knows her participation in outdoor track will be determined by how much pain she is in come spring.
Central coach Sean Wilde has seen Etchepare grow by leaps and bounds since she arrived as a relatively green runner in August 2017. She has been part of the Lady Indians’ state meet team all four years. Her top finish at state was 23rd as a sophomore.
Wilde knows Etchepare will be on the track if her body allows.
“She has taken everything in stride, and is doing everything she can to make sure she can compete,” Wilde said. “If she can be out there, she will be.”
On the course
All three state cross-country meets got moved from Saturday to Friday. All three Cheyenne schools will run in Casper, where it is supposed to be around 38 degrees when the gun fires to start the meet.
Burns-Pine Bluffs will compete at the Class 3A meet in Afton.
On the court
The Cheyenne Central and Cheyenne East volleyball teams return to action after being sidelined last weekend because of COVID-19 contact tracing.
Central hosts Cheyenne South at 6 p.m. Friday and plays at Laramie at noon Saturday. East hosts Laramie at 6 p.m. Friday and plays at South at noon Saturday.
Pine Bluffs plays at Moorcroft at 3 p.m. Friday and hosts Glenrock at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Burns hosts Torrington at 4 p.m. Friday. The Lady Broncs face Newcastle at 1 p.m. Saturday in Buffalo. They follow that by meeting Buffalo at 4 p.m. Saturday.
In the pool
Central, East, South and Laramie will compete in a quasi-4A East Conference meet Friday and Saturday at the South Natatorium. The preliminaries start at 2 p.m. Friday. The finals start at 9 a.m. Saturday.