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Women’s Interhall: Coach’s battle with cancer inspires players

Jared Jedick | Friday, November 16, 2007

Cavanaugh coach Aidan Fitzgerald credits football with saving his life.

“Had it not been for an injury I sustained while playing Interhall football, I would never have taken the CT scan that offered the first clue that I had stage II cancer,” Fitzgerald said.

Telling the girls about his struggle with testicular cancer two years ago was one of the most trying ordeals Fitzgerald has gone through. He had tried to keep the mood light.

“But I realized that it was not a joke this time,” said Fitzgerald, a sophomore.

Almost a year later, having undergone two surgeries, nine weeks of chemotherapy, and hundreds of needles, Fitzgerald made his return to Notre Dame and to football.

Now he is back on the sidelines of Cavanaugh, inspiring the Cinderella story of this season. And Cavanaugh wants this victory for its coach and the team. Cavanaugh credits much of its success to Fitzgerald, its coaching staff, and senior captain Tarah Brown.

“Both the coaches and the captains do a great job of reading our team – they always seem to know when to lighten the mood and when to step up the intensity at practice and during games,” senior center Jill Martini said.

Welsh Fam dealt with some adversity of its own this season.

Welsh Family junior quarterback Jenni Gargula, the Whirlwinds’ playmaker, suffered a torn left (non-throwing) bicep in a car accident over fall break.

Gargula was driving with her boyfriend when the accident occurred.

“My boyfriend was driving, when all of a sudden another car ran a red light,” Gargula said. “She hit our car, and in the impact I partially tore the bicep in my left arm.”

Gargula’s first concern was for her safety and that of her boyfriend. But when the doctors told her that she had a torn bicep, she immediately began to worry if she could play for her team the next week.

“I could not move it at all, and I was in constant pain” Gargula said.

But the day after, still in agony, Gargula decided she was going to play despite the serious injury.

“I was not sure if I was going to let her play,” Welsh Fam coach Mike Kaiser said. “If I thought she was in pain, I was going to pull her.”

Welsh Family even prepared back-up quarterback senior Kelly Bushelle to play all week.

“Everyone was pretty bummed. Nobody thought that I would be able to play,” Gargula said.

When she unexpectedly started for the Whirlwinds in the first round of the playoffs, the morale boost was immediate.

“I cannot say enough about Jenni,” Kaiser said.

Gargula played for most of the game, enduring intense pain in her left arm.

“The pain was worse sometimes than at others,” Gargula said. “I just focused on what I was doing, not on the arm. I wanted to get a big enough lead so that I could rest at the end of the game.”

When asked why she endured the pain and risked further injury, Kaiser’s answer was simple.

“Her stubborn nature,” he said.

Gargula’s answer to the same question was even simpler.

“I hate to lose,” she said.