Welcome back to NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Summer Games. Tonight in the triple jump, a remarkable story of courage and perseverance: Stacey Kahn, 22, of Gary, Ind., competing for Team U.S.A. For Stacey, it’s been a long and winding road to the Olympics.
[Tinkly piano music.]
She was born in America’s heartland, her legs twisted and tangled.
“I can still remember the doctors saying to my mother: ‘This girl will never, ever hop, skip or jump—and certainly not some combination of the three.’ But I had all the faith in the world.”
Twenty-eight operations later, her legs were strong, sturdy, straight. But adversity was not yet done with Stacey Kahn.
By the age of seven, Stacey had been diagnosed with diabetes, hemophilia, rhinophyma and six things ending in -itis. “I remember saying, ‘I may not have as much luck as everyone else but I’ve got more heart.’ Literally—the thing is congenitally enlarged.”
As a child, only one pastime brought solace to Stacey Kahn—the triple jump. “The minute I discovered the triple jump, I knew that from that moment on God would be smiling down on me.”
She was diagnosed with cancer shortly thereafter. Doctors told her she had a tumour the size of a Wiffle ball near the elbow of one of her two right arms. But on the day of the operation, a startling discovery: inside Stacey Kahn, next to the tumour the size of a Wiffle ball, was an actual Wiffle ball.
“I know God put that Wiffle ball inside of me for a reason. [Pause.] Still working that one out.”
[Tinklier piano music.]
Once more, she found comfort in familiar ritual. Hop. Skip. Jump.
Dreams are like rainbows—they inspire us, they move us, they’re magical and wondrous, like galloping ponies. This would-be Olympian knew there were hurdles ahead. But no one was going to deny Stacey Kahn her galloping rainbow pony dream.
“I said to myself, ‘Sure, I’ve been through some adversity.’ But you know what—you can’t spell ‘adversity’ without ‘guts.’ Or maybe you can. I don’t know—I also have a pretty bad learning disability. Did I mention that?”
Stacey has cheated death more times than she can count—four times. There was the ruptured spleen. The burst appendix. The second burst appendix, because apparently she had another one in there. The third burst appendix.
“I guess some people, maybe they get all down and depressed once their third appendix bursts. I knew it was part of a bigger plan.”
Some of us would have looked in the mirror and given up. But Stacey Kahn didn’t do that. She didn’t do that because Stacey can’t see her reflection in the mirror. She’s part vampire.
“Growing up, I knew I was different. My skin was paler than the other kids. And every now and then I’d feast on my friends for sustenance. [Pause. She stares into the distance.] Sleepovers got pretty weird.”
Eventually, Stacey’s mother told her daughter the truth about her creation. A roadside bar. A few drinks. A night of passion. “That vampire made a lot of promises about providing for my Mom for the next several hundred years. But then, poof, the next morning he was gone. [Pause.] Actually, Mom says the sound was more of a ‘pffffft.’ I guess she should have mentioned the bedroom skylight.”
A father she’d never know. Childhood memories she’d never have. And still adversity was not done with Stacey Kahn.
Just three weeks before the Games—three weeks from her life’s goal—Stacey lost her legs due to what doctors describe as “them kind of just falling off.” Stacey Kahn remains undaunted. “The way I see it, God took away my father, my legs and my will to live for a reason.”
She can’t skip anymore. She certainly can’t jump. Her hopping isn’t particularly strong, either. But tonight Stacey Kahn will compete for her vampire father, looking down from vampire heaven. She will compete for that galloping rainbow dream pony in the sky.
It will be an emotional moment for Stacey Kahn. “Frankly I’d be worried about just breaking down and crying—but I was born without tear ducts. Did I mention that?”