(Editor’s note — Each year, in advance of the girls championships, I send out requests for information on teams I never get to watch during their season of play, hoping coaches will take the time to enlighten in all manner of team aspects.
This year, Prince George Secondary head coach Tracy Cole took the time to write a heartfelt letter about the struggles her daughter Erin has had to overcome just to pull on her Polars’ jersey to play games. It’s the kind of story reminds us all how special the opportunity is for families to share in the love of our great game together and how this week, so much of that seems especially magnified.
Mom and daughter are here this week, as the Polars get set to face the Abbotsford Panthers on Wednesday in their opening-round game. With the family’s permission, we present that letter in its entirety.)
PRINCE GEORGE — Erin Cole has been an athlete since a young age.
She has been a gymnast, swimmer, and volleyball player and now focuses on basketball and soccer.
She has represented the North Central Region at the BC Summer Games in basketball and volleyball and in netball at the B.C. Winter Games.
Basketball has allowed her to travel throughout B.C., Alberta and in August 2015, Erin traveled to Japan to play basketball with a team out of the Lower Mainland.
Throughout high school, Erin played volleyball and basketball and when the high school season ended, she played club volleyball and played basketball on the regional basketball team.
In the fall of 2016, when playing volleyball in her grade 11 year, Erin began to complain of joint pain.
Volleyball season rolled into basketball season and Erin, who remained active on the hardwood, was still feeling an ache in her joints after practices and games.
Erin, the captain of her high school basketball team, successfully completed her Grade 11 high school season by being named as one of Prince George’s Top 10 City All Stars and earned a spot on the all-star team at the North Central Zone tournament.
When the high school basketball season ended, the club basketball season began and Erin’s joint pain continued to hinder her.
Erin started her final year with the Junior Timberwolves program at the University of Northern British Columbia.
Despite always being a leader on the court, Erin started to struggle with her shifts on the floor. During the Great Canadian Shoot Out in Edmonton, Erin had trouble with her ankles and despite resting them between tournaments, the problem continued right up to her last tournament in Kamloops in July.
Despite basketball season ending, Erin’s joints continued to ache and she began to sleep more.
One morning in August, Erin woke up with fingers so swollen that she could not bend them and a body that ached all over.
We immediately went to the doctor who ordered a full panel of bloodwork.
On August 23 – two weeks before the beginning of her graduation year- Erin’s bloodwork came back and the doctor shared with us that she thought Erin had Rheumatoid Arthritis because a normal marker for this condition is 7 and Erin’s levels were 307.
We were immediately referred to BC Children’s Hospital and within a month we travelled to BCCH and worked with a wonderful team of doctors and therapists.
After a thorough examination, it was determined that Erin had Sjogren’s Syndrome which is an autoimmune disorder that is similar to Rheumatoid Arthritis, but is accompanied by other symptoms such as the inability to produce enough tears and saliva.
When her exam concluded, the doctor asked Erin if she had any questions and she immediately asked, “Can I still play basketball?”
The doctor answered by saying that if her exam had taken place 20 years earlier, he would have answered no, but now it is encouraged that you stay as active as you can when you receive a diagnosis such as this.
Two months later, Erin hit the court for her final basketball season.
She is on medication to relieve the joint pain and it helps alleviate it some.
She has continued to be a leader on the court and once again earned a City All-star in Prince George and this year she was named the Most Outstanding Defensive Player at the North Central Zone Championship.
As her parent and coach, I have watched her struggle when the ball slips through her hands when she can’t grasp it with enough strength or call for a sub because her hand joints are sore and she can’t dribble the ball as a point guard should, or when she gets home from a game exhausted and soaks in the hot tub to relieve her joint pain.
She is a true athlete who loves her sport and the teammates she plays with and despite being handed what could have been a debilitating diagnosis, she chose to rise above it and fight back with her courage, strength and love for the game.