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Tuesday
Jul122011

Young Gymnast Tumbles on One Leg after Overcoming Cancer

Ryan McVay/Thinkstock(NORTHFIELD, Minn.) -- Adam Starr stepped into the Northfield Gymnastics Club last week; it had been two years since he last tumbled. Gymnastics skills aren't like riding a bike.

Any gymnast would be rusty after two years of no physical preparation. It takes enhanced muscle memory, daily practice and sheer mental strength to convince the mind to tumble.

It takes courage for any gymnast to jump into the air and flip the human body backward in unnatural ways, fully knowing the danger that waits on the ground if one small mistake is made.

But Starr's situation was different. This time he was attempting his first gymnastics trick with only his left leg.

Starr started gymnastics at the age of three and continued practicing as a teenager. His mother, Leslie Starr, said he was always a "monkey" climbing around their home. His father, Garrett Starr, said that his son was always an acrobat.

The 21-year-old senior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn,. lost his leg to cancer in 2009. Being a lifelong gymnast, captain of his high school track team and an All-American diver, losing one a leg was devastating.

Starr was born with a rare condition called Lymphedema, which causes swelling in limbs. In this case, Starr always had swelling issues with his leg that would come and go, but he was still able to compete in athletics.

During his freshman year, Starr went to the doctor for swelling and a bruise on his foot that would not go away. The doctor called him on Valentine's Day in his college dorm room and told him he had a form of low-grade cancer, but it still required amputation of his leg.

The doctor gave Starr two choices for his surgery: either to have his below-the-knee amputation in just one month over spring break or to wait until his summer break. Starr chose to go ahead and have his surgery over spring break -- a decision his parents agreed with, but they were worried for their son.

Once the doctors did the surgery, they found that Starr actually had a very aggressive and rapidly growing cancer that had spread -- stage four angiosarcoma, which has a very high mortality rate.

His mother said they were shocked by the news, but her multi-talented son, who is also a guitarist, kept them grounded after the devastating diagnosis.

Two days later, Starr went through another amputation, this time above the knee to remove the aggressive cancer that had spread. He said it was odd to see where his leg should have been after the amputation.

Starr took the spring semester off from college and for the next seven months he endured a rigorous schedule of chemotherapy.

Starr was fitted with a prosthetic leg and learned to walk with his new body. He said the most difficult part was building up his endurance to walk long distances.

Starr said one thing that pulled him through his cancer was his desire to become a doctor. He is a pre-med student and will be applying to medical school after he graduates next year. He is considering the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation after going through his illness.

Starr spent the last two years rehabilitating, and just last week he decided to go back to the gym to see if he could still tumble.

Starr walked into the gym with a couple of friends and a camera, with a goal in mind of completing a back tuck.

To Starr's surprise, he could still land a back tuck and began attempting other gymnastics tricks that were also successful.

Starr posted the tumbling video online for his family and friends to see. The video became a viral sensation online with hundreds of thousands views. Messages came pouring into Starr's inbox from all over the country, some from amputees who were inspired by what Starr could do.

Starr says his return to the gym serves as an affirmation that he can achieve his goals and be successful.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio