Reach­ing New Heights run­ner Gi­ana DiLascio overcomes ill­ness to pur­sue her ath­letic dreams

201 Family - - CONTENTS - – DAR­REN COOPER

Sit­ting at the kitchen ta­ble while her mother makes sand­wiches, Gi­ana DiLascio is re­minded that she hasn’t called her grand­mother yet.

“She calls ev­ery sin­gle night,” her mom Tina says to a guest. “Do you know of any other high school kid who does that?”

No, at least not many, but there aren’t many girls like DiLascio, 16, whose long dark curly hair hides a small hole near the top of her head. There is a story be­hind that in­ci­sion, and DiLascio doesn’t mind telling it.

It in­cludes a celebrity sight­ing, a trip to Dis­ney World and now, be­ing the lead run­ner for Hasbrouck Heights High School.

But for just a mo­ment, DiLascio pauses. She has to call her grand­mother when she’s done, but for now, she’s talk­ing about Hy­dro­cephalus, the con­di­tion that could have killed her if gone un­treated and the ques­tion she used to pose to her mother grow­ing up.

“Is it weird how it feels like your brain and your head is so tight? And she would say, ‘no, that’s not how it’s sup­posed to feel,’” DiLascio, a ju­nior says. “I would be like, ‘OK, then.’”

These days, a lot of the ques­tions around the track and the trail are who is that girl in or­ange and black for Hasbrouck Heights? DiLascio was the lead run­ner for the Avi­a­tors’ girls cross-coun­try team and is a promis­ing dis­tance run­ner on the track team, spe­cial­iz­ing in the mile and two-mile.

“If she im­proves half as much as she did this year from last year, she will be the best cross-coun­try run­ner we have ever had at Heights,” Avi­a­tors cross­coun­try coach Mike Ryan says. “This is a girl who never thought she could be here, and now she just be­lieves and that’s been the whole key.”

DiLascio has her speech on Hy­dro­cephalus down for when peo­ple ask, and a YouTube video about it she made with her mom. Her life motto: Don’t com­plain.

“Peo­ple say I’m al­ways re­ally happy,” says DiLascio.

“She re­ally is pos­i­tive, she is like the hap­pi­est, glass al­ways half-full type,” Tina in­ter­jects.

“That’s re­ally the only way to be,” says DiLascio. “I don’t un­der­stand peo­ple who are com­plain­ing all the time.”

Look­ing back, the class was “Top­ics in Math” and DiLascio was in sixth grade. It would be af­ter lunch, ap­prox­i­mately 1 p.m. As the teacher was ex­plain­ing the finer points of ba­sic al­ge­bra, DiLascio would start to feel it.

The pres­sure. The nau­sea. The feel­ing like she was go­ing to vomit.

“I would get home and it would fol­low me the rest of the day,” says DiLascio. “It is un­usual be­cause peo­ple with Hy­dro­cephalus usu­ally feel their symp­toms the most in the morn­ing and at night. I was con­fused be­cause it was al­ways in the mid­dle of the day for me.”

The feel­ings per­sisted and she went to have an MRI. She re­mem­bers it was Mother’s Day 2012. Doc­tors called and said they wanted a sec­ond MRI done. That was odd.

The di­ag­no­sis was in­stant. It was Hy­dro­cephalus.

“I al­ways ex­plain it the same way. It’s when the spinal fluid tries to pass through your brain through a pas­sage­way called ven­tri­cles. Mine was blocked, so the ven­tri­cles just kept get­ting big­ger and big­ger and it was push­ing against my brain and that was push­ing against my skull and eyes, that’s why my headaches were get­ting pro­gres­sively worse,” she says.

The only op­tion is to drill hole at the top of the head, re­lease the fluid and hope that it doesn’t re­oc­cur.

“[Surgery] was a blur,” Tina says. “What I re­mem­ber most is be­ing pet­ri­fied and de­pen­dent on my hus­band to keep me strong. And I re­mem­ber the sigh of relief when the doc­tor came to­ward us with a smile on his face that it went well.”

DiLascio went back to school when sev­enth grade be­gan. Doc­tors even­tu­ally cleared her for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, so when she en­tered high school, she tried vol­ley­ball her fresh­man year, then winter track. Run­ning be­came her pas­sion.

“I had a goal in my mind that I wanted to go un­der three min­utes in the 800 and when I did that, I was like, ‘wow, I can set a goal and I can work re­ally hard ev­ery day to make that goal,’” says DiLascio. “I en­joyed the feel­ing of run­ning and when I was do­ing it, I wasn’t wor­ried about any­thing. I was just think­ing: keep go­ing and when I was done I felt great.”

Now, Gi­ana is a full-time run­ner. She makes up routes in her home­town and her fa­vorite sum­mer ac­tiv­ity is cross­coun­try camp.

“She is just amaz­ing,” says Ryan. “I guess you have to go through some­thing like this to get this way, but this girl has a smile on her face ev­ery sin­gle minute. We could be do­ing a speed work­out and she might be about to pass out, but she’s smil­ing. She is some­one that Hasbrouck Heights should make an ex­am­ple out of, as a per­son you want to be.”

But DiLascio’s tale isn’t com­plete with­out The Tim­ber­lake Story.

First, some back­ground, the DiLascio fam­ily likes to try to win con­cert tick­ets via ra­dio sta­tion con­tests. About a year af­ter the surgery, Tina packed up the fam­ily to pick up some tick­ets she had won for a Blondie con­cert. While waiting to get the tick­ets, per­former Jus­ton Tim­ber­lake and his en­tourage en­tered.

“It was a crowded lobby and the kids are with me and they’re all com­plain­ing and I turn around and I see Justin,” says Tina. “He kept on walk­ing and I’m like, ‘oh my God,’ but his man­ager is like, ‘no, no,’ to Justin be­cause he stopped to wave. They’re pulling him away and I’m like, ‘but my daugh­ter is a Make-A-Wish child!’ He stopped his guys and came right over.”

Tim­ber­lake took a pic­ture with DiLascio, told her to keep it as her screen­saver (it has since been re­placed with a pic­ture of her and her boyfriend; sorry, Justin). The story drew a lot of at­ten­tion for the star’s dis­play of kind­ness.

DiLascio smiles as her mother tells the story. She’s heard it many times, so there’s ob­vi­ously the false em­bar­rass­ment that comes when you’re a teenager and your mom is talk­ing about you.

But she re­mains qui­etly smil­ing. She’s not go­ing to com­plain.

AHEAD OF THE PACK Gi­ana DiLascio fin­ishes sec­ond in the North 1 Group 1 race at the state sec­tion­als cross­coun­try meet in Novem­ber 2016.

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