After scary detour, Stiles rolls with new role

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Cassidy Stiles, right, and Brooke Dougan cheered on Heritage Hills teammates in the 1,600-meter relay at Thursday’s Southridge Invitational, where the Patriots won the eight-team meet. Stiles starred on two of the Patriot relay squads last season but has shifted to a support role this year as she’s dealt with a brain tumor and a neurological disorder that caused spells of fainting. For more photos from the Southridge Invitational, click here.


HUNTINGBURG — Cassidy Stiles was scared. Given what she had just been through, it’s hard the blame the Heritage Hills senior.


This was back in September, when she started developing severe migraines and began passing out for as many as 30 seconds at a time. Stiles then went to the doctor and found out she had a brain tumor, which triggered a brief period of panic before she found out it was more or less harmless.

“It actually ended up just being an incidental finding,” Stiles said. “I could have never have found it. Later, after more testing, I found out I had this disease called neurocardiogenic syncope, which is basically where my heart will have really hard beats and my arteries dilate so then my blood pressure gets really low and I pass out.”

Stiles had never heard of neurocardiogenic syncope, so that must mean it wasn’t good.

“After I did more research and realized it wasn’t so severe it calmed me down again, but there were times when I was definitely freaked out,” Stiles said.

She still has the brain tumor, but it’s nothing to worry about, Stiles said. Really, the tumor served as a clue to help find her disease, which she is managing fine though it’s preventing her from competing in track for her senior season. As Heritage Hills totaled 136 points to win Thursday’s Southridge Invitational, Stiles was watching instead of running. The host Raiders gathered 123 points for a close second, while Northeast Dubois (34) snagged sixth in the eight-team meet.

Stiles cheered as Caitlin Lueken glided to first in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, Malareah Balbach soared to first in the pole vault and Jenna Burns sprinted to crowns in the 100 and 200 for the Patriots. Kayla Blake, Sifra Kuiper, Burns and Kerragan Mulzer also joined to clock the top time in the 1,600 relay.

The plan this year was for Stiles to be on that relay, which she’d run for the last two years in boosting the Pats to back-to-back regional appearances in the event including a sectional win last spring. She also sprinted her way to another regional appearance with the 400 relay team a year ago.

“It was really frustrating because I worked all three years to get to my senior year,” Stiles said.

That doesn’t just go for track. Coming into this year’s basketball season, Stiles was one of two seniors on the team but was limited to stints of only a few minutes at a time on the court. Her fainting episodes persisted throughout hoops season, and she developed a signal system with the coaching staff so whenever she started feeling woozy, she could be subbed out to regather herself. That happened around three times a game.

“I couldn’t play more for a couple of minutes at a time,” Stiles said. “Sometimes I would play like a quarter and then sit out for half of the next quarter.”

She was still feeling well enough to run track this season and participated in every practice leading up to the season until she passed out again. This time, though, it wasn’t for 30 seconds. She remained unconscious for five minutes.

“That kind of woke us up to the fact that maybe this is a serious thing and maybe I shouldn’t be putting my body through that,” Stiles said. “Then I went back to the cardiologist and now I have this heart monitor on, and you can’t have a heart monitor on and run track.”

She wears the heart monitor wherever she goes, but also insists it’s more of a precaution to make sure the neurocardiogenic syncope is what she and her doctors think it is. The disease isn’t all that rare, Stiles said, it’s just that hers is more severe than most.

“It’s like whenever you stand up too fast and then you get that rush,” Stiles said. “It’s like that but I get it all the time just for like different triggers.”

Those prompters range from exercise and standing for long periods of time to simply overheating and her blood sugar dipping too low. Because of that, parts of her life have changed.

“I’ve had to watch my diet a lot more,” Stiles said. “I was used to being a teenager and eating whatever I wanted and going to sleep when I wanted. Now I’m a lot stricter on eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and eating snacks in between, drinking a lot of water, I don’t drink any caffeine anymore, I go to sleep a lot earlier at night.”

Stiles still comes to track practice, but once the team breaks up for individual coaching she usually heads home. Heritage Hills coach Dawn Mix said Stiles has started to bring a bike to cruise around practice and talk with teammates so she can stick around longer.

Her biggest contributions come during meets like Thursday’s.

“She comes to all the meets and if there’s a girl who’s worried or freaking out before a race she’s there to give them a pep talk and get them in the right frame of mind,” Mix said. “She’s been there and she knows, so she’s been a huge asset to the team even if she’s been unable to compete.”

Stiles said she isn’t sure why, but girls started seeking her out this year during those times. Normally, she said her sage advice amounts to reminding the jittery runners that if they’re running in the event in the first place, that says something about how talented they are.

Mix calls Stiles “our go-to pep talker,” which is a bit of a departure from her personality as Stiles has never been one to get overly excited, Mix said. With a heart monitor now, she really can’t even if she wanted to. Really she’s a calming influence, Mix said, which is appropriate.

When Stiles was first diagnosed in the fall and she was admittedly panicking, her teammates and coaches were the ones settling her nerves. When she was upset she wouldn’t be able to run track — and as she was trying to talk her doctors into delaying any more tests so she could keep running — it was those same people reminding Stiles how much more important her health is than a track season.

Now, Stiles is able to recognize she’s fortunate the disease popped up when it did. It could have come earlier, robbing Stiles of her first three years of competition and altering her entire high school career. It’s also managed to change her for the better.

“I think I’m probably more mature since I have to have more discipline with how I eat and just taking better care of myself,” Stiles said. “I think I’ve matured through the whole experience. I could have gotten easily mad and thrown a fit, but I didn’t do that because I had a really good support system.”

Southridge junior Tori Tretter placed first in the discus with a personal-best toss of 110 feet, 3 inches as the Raider girls earned runner-up as a team behind Heritage Hills. For more photos from the Southridge Invitational, click here.

Tretter breaking through

Tori Tretter had thought she might have hit a wall, since she couldn’t manage to improve on her best length in the discus throw. That changed Thursday, when the Southridge junior claimed the title in the event while shattering her personal record with a toss of 110 feet, 3 inches.

“It’s been a goal all year this year since I was throwing in the 100s last year and my coach keeps pushing to me to farther,” Tretter said. “I finally got to the point where I got out of my rut. I had been throwing like 103s in all my meets this year and I finally got out of that rut.”

For Tretter, Thursday also served as a confirmation of what head coach Ted O’Brien and throwing coach Kevin Wertman have been telling her this season: Keep working, and she may find her season lasting until the state finals.

“That’s a goal for both Ted and Kevin, and myself,” Tretter said. “I really want to get there this year.”

Senninger doubling up

Northeast Dubois coach Tammy Schulthies needed to increase her numbers before this season, and went to an unlikely source. She noticed Megan Senniger sitting in an algebra class and couldn’t help but think the freshman with no experience in track and field looked like she could heave a shot put.

Megan Senninger competed in shot put during Thursday’s Southridge Invitational, where the Jeeps picked up sixth in the eight-team meet. For more photos from the Southridge Invitational, click here.

Then, she needed someone else to fill out her freshman 400 relay, and Senniger’s long limbs did the trick there as well. Thursday, her second leg in the relay helped the Jeeps to a third-place finish.

“Since I’m taller I can run pretty quickly, so the sprint kind of worked out with that,” Senniger said. “Shot put — I just kind of got placed with that since I’m stronger.”

She said it took a couple weeks to convince her body to sprint, since she’s never really had much experience running quick, short bursts before. But after that it came pretty easily — even though the only practice she gets running on the track typically comes in meets.

“It’s not as hard as you think,” Senniger said of her multitasking routine in practice. “We just do a couple minutes of baton switching and then I’ll go practice for the shot put.”

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