Alyssia Crook - one year after amputation | News
CINCINNATI, Ohio (WZZM) - It was a little over a year ago Alyssia Crook was introduced to West Michigan -- and the world.
Alyssia is the teenager who made international news when she chose to have a portion of her left leg amputated because of a rare disease.
Well, Alyssia's made another life-altering choice.
Last year, basketball was her first love. Her dream was to actually play for her Hudsonville middle school basketball team. Alyssia managed to make that dream become a reality.
This year, she's decided to trade in her jump shot for the perfect jump into a pool, a choice that ultimately could make her a United States Paralympian.
"She's really fast in the water," said Chad Crook, Alyssia's father. "I think it's where she's free."
To fully understand Alyssia Crook, you have to go beneath the surface.
"In the water, nobody is actually saying, 'stop'," said Alyssia. "I'm so fast, you can't see me."
Lap after lap, she's moving further and further away from the restrictions she's endured.
"Her entire life has been about fighting and adapting and overcoming obstacles," said Karen Crook, Alyssia's mother.
One year ago, Alyssia made a choice. A rare genetic disease was causing her left leg to die. At 12 years old, she leaned on her faith and chose amputation.
"My pain was gone, and my freedom was here," said Alyssia, recalling how she felt after her surgery last year.
Her mother remembers Alyssia's "freedom" being evident her first night after the amputation.
"At about 1:30 in the morning, I'm sitting there [bedside] and she was watching her sleep," said Karen. "That was the first normal night of her life, and I felt like she was about to start her life."
And that's exactly what she did.
Four months after the amputation, Alyssia began practicing with the Hudsonville Middle School swim team.
"Alyssia was so afraid she would sink with her one leg," Karen recalls.
That's when Alyssia met Elizabeth Stone, a paralympic swimmer from Grand Rapids.
"[Elizabeth] basically threw Alyssia in and said, 'you're going to do it!'," Karen remembers.
Stone taught Alyssia how to do all her strokes with one leg. By December, Stone felt Alyssia was good enough to sign up for the United States Paralympic Team, and find a coach.
"It's kind of scary how fast [Alyssia] really is [in the pool]," said Chad.
After that, intense training began. Alyssia trained for two hours a day and competed on the weekends.
"That's when we realized her times would qualify her for the Olympic Trials," said Chad.
All of the sudden, Alyssia was faced with another big choice in her life, and it involved swimming for distance.
"The 500 freestyle," Karen said proudly.
"Alyssia said, 'put me down for [the 500 freestyle] because I want to swim it,'" said Karen, recalling her conversation. "Coach said, 'do you know how many laps that is?'"
Karen said Alyssia knew exactly how many laps it was, but she wanted to swim it anyway.
What made Alyssia's choice to swim the 500-meter freestyle so intriguing is that she'd never swam more than the 150 meters.
"The first time she swam it, she did it in seven minutes," Karen said.
The paralympic time standard is eight minutes.
After that, the Crooks started getting mail from the United States Olympic Committee, saying Alyssia is on the "long-list" as an emerging paralympian.
In May, 2012, the unbelievable started to become believable when Alyssia was invited to the "G-TAC Disability Open" in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was one of 175 swimmers from ten different countries, each looking to earn international classification by the Paralympic Committee.
"[Alyssia] is one of our new up and comer athletes," said Dave Denniston, a United States Paralympic coach. "She's on her way to doing some really good things."
Alyssia participated in seven events at G'TAC. In three of them, her times were close to the paralympic standards. In the 50-meter breaststroke, she managed a first place finish.
All in all, it wasn't bad for the one year anniversary of her amputation.
"I think losing this leg was probably the best thing that ever happened to her," said Chad Crook. "I wouldn't say she lost a leg; I'd say she gained a life."
The next stop for Alyssia Crook?
"We're hopeful for 2016 and Rio de Janeiro," said Chad. "My feeling is in four years, she'll be fine."
Because what she's doing beneath the surface is making waves above the surface, catching the eye of the U.S. Olympic Committee, meaning she could be representing our country in four short years.
Alyssia will be our of the pool for a good chunk of this summer because she's having reconstructive foot surgery. During that time, her swim coach will have her on a strict workout schedule so she can build up her muscles. She plans to travel to California in October and compete in the Pan-Am Games, where if she can trim down her swim times, she'll have a great shot at earning one of 60 invitations to the United States Paralympic Team.
By Brent Ashcroft