Ashley Guyette is fearless. Even at just 5 feet 4, she stands tall when facing adversity. She always has.
The Redmond High senior guard has spent more time in hospitals and in doctors’ offices than anyone ever should, yet she has only grown stronger from it. She is not one to complain or make excuses. Rather, Guyette plays the hand she has been dealt and does so with an all-in approach. She has become an inspiration to many as her rosy outlook — on a basketball game, on a soccer match, on life — has never wavered.
Her strength and positivity have never been shaken — not even when they could have easily been torn down.
Guyette was an active child growing up. She was a basketball junkie who was always running around outside, often running around with friends. Though Guyette’s liveliness, at least from fourth grade on, was restrained by a back brace that she was instructed to wear to curtail the development of scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine.
“That was the first time I realized I was, like, different and I had to be careful and stuff,” she recalls. “That was tough to be in a back brace for 20 hours out of the day.”
To that point in her young life, Guyette had already overcome plenty, but the road ahead was still littered with potholes.
Guyette says she was diagnosed with rhabdomyoscarcoma, a disease in which cancer cells form in muscle tissue, when she was 10 months old. And in Guyette’s case, that cancer was wrapped around her spine. Fortunately, through radiation and surgery, the cancer was successfully removed. Doctors had warned Guyette’s parents, however, that the radiation on young bones would cause them to grow at a slower rate and eventually result in scoliosis, which manifested by Guyette’s freshman year of high school, when her spine developed into what she describes as “a pretty severe curve.”
“She was just this tiny little thing,” remembers sixth-year Redmond basketball coach Angela Capps, who taught Guyette in her freshman PE class. “But she participated in class with zero fear.”
Guyette had informed the coach that she was interested in coming out for the basketball team that year. Capps had a regular 6 a.m. weight training for Panthers players, and Guyette, Capps says, “jumped right in like it was no big deal. She just impressed me from the get-go because of her determination and desire. And this was before I even knew her story.”
Not long after, Capps became aware of Guyette’s history — of the cancer that was eradicated, of her countless visits to doctors to ensure she was healthy, of the scoliosis that was forming in her spine. Capps came away astounded.
“She just had such a drive about her that just stood out like I’ve never seen before,” the coach says.
Guyette played with the junior varsity squad that year. Capps recalls the freshman’s teammates taking to her quickly. Not because of Guyette’s courage and strength throughout her medically riddled past, however, but because of her positivity and confidence.
“It didn’t matter to her,” Capps says. “She would just go in and play with no fear.”
Fear. Guyette is unfamiliar with the term, apparently. Even in the middle of her freshman year, when she went to Portland and spent two months at Shriners Hospital for Children in a halo (a brace that keeps the head fixed and has vertical rods attached to the shoulders to keep the spine straight). During that time, Guyette was not allowed to leave the hospital. Instead, she wandered the halls and visited different areas of the hospital with the help of a walker or a wheelchair.
“It was pretty hard to stay inside for that long,” Guyette says. “I was a pretty active child, so to be stuck inside for two months was definitely rough. It was a very isolated kind of feeling, not being able to see anybody or do anything.”
Following the halo ordeal, Guyette underwent a spinal fusion (she says she stood 3 inches taller following surgery). Certainly, Guyette concedes, she was nervous about the procedure, wondering at times what would happen to her if something went wrong. But as she had done throughout her life, she remained chipper, even during a minor complication when spinal fluid was leaking following surgery.
“I’ve always been super positive,” she says. “That’s just how I was raised. I never thought about, ‘Why me? Why not somebody else?’ It’s just something I had to get through.”
Despite being confined to the Portland hospital, Guyette maintained a sunny disposition — as well as a 4.0 GPA. To raise her spirits even higher, Capps and the rest of the Panthers jumped on a bus and traveled from Redmond to pay Guyette a visit during her recovery.
“Ashley had a whole afternoon set up for us,” Capps recalls. “(The hospital) had a little gaming center for the kids to hang out in, and she had this air hockey tournament set up for us. It was cool to just go and hang out with her.”
That day improved (even more so) Guyette’s confidence about returning to her active self. Seven months later, she was on the pitch with Redmond High soccer, though she says she was cautious to not put her body through too much physical stress. By last season, she was back on the basketball court with the Panthers as a JV/varsity swing player. After years of playing with limited movement because of a back brace, Guyette finally felt free.
“Growing up and knowing you were going to have scoliosis and problems,” she says, “to finally have that fixed, it’s just really rewarding to not have to worry about it anymore.”
Guyette has become “the spark plug” Redmond has needed over the past two seasons, Capps says — a scrappy defender who can knock down jump shots when needed. Yet the Redmond coach does not focus on the on-court contributions, rather Guyette’s determination and uplifting attitude.
Sports, Capps says of the senior, “is a way of life for her, and she doesn’t want to do anything different but just live a normal life and get after it.”
Guyette continues to play without fear and makes no excuses — even more so now after the road she has traveled.
“I think it definitely makes me stronger,” says Guyette, who also runs track. “Little things that could get other people (down) just don’t matter in the long run, so I don’t have to worry about them.”
—Reporter: 541-383-0307, firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Originally printed in the Bend Bulletin]