North Montgomery’s Katie Rice has battled juvenile arthritis ever since the 7th grade. That hasn’t stopped her from being a dominate force for the Chargers on the basketball court.
LINDEN — North Montgomery senior basketball player Katie Rice isn’t your typical athlete. Over the course of her four year career, injuries have forced Rice to miss almost half of her games. This season it was looking as if she’d finally break through the barrier and play in every game for the Chargers who were in the midst of one of their most successful seasons in a long time. However on Jan. 11 against Greencastle Rice suffered a concussion which forced her senior season to come to an end.
There’s been a reason for all of the injuries over the years for Rice, something that not many people know. Ever since 7th grade Rice has been dealing with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
“It really starts to swell up my ankles, hips, wrists, fingers and back,” Rice said of RA. “It gets bad enough to where my feet will go completely numb at times. It prevents me from being as explosiveness and quickness out on the court more than anything.”
Despite dealing the RA her entire high school career, that hasn’t stopped Rice from wanting to be out on the court competing. She sees basketball as a way to forget about everything else and have fun with her teammates and coaches while playing the game she loves.
“Sports has always been a part of who I am,” she said. “When I’m out there on the court I forget about the RA and forget about the pain and how much I’ve been through. I’ve always joked with coach (Ryan Nuppnau) that when I’m on the bench, that’s when I start to feel the pain.”
Coach Nuppnau who has seen Rice go through all of the aches and pains over the last four years couldn’t say enough about the kind of player he’s had the opportunity to coach and be around. The term ‘special’ came up quite a bit as Nuppnau talked about the journey that Rice has been on.
“She’s just one of those players that come around once in a blue moon and reminds you of why you want to coach,” he said. “She’s been an inspiration for what she’s been through. It’s not just how talented she is skill wise, but her desire to play to play through so much pain. I have no idea what she’s going through but it has to be pretty painful and exhausting for her and most people would probably just give it up but not her.”
This season before missing the final five games, Rice was putting together her best season for North Montgomery averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds per game. Throughout her career while battling the injuries and RA, Rice has never been alone and credits her strong support system for helping her get through it all.
“Isaac Hook (athletic trainer) and coach Nuppnau have always been there for me at every step of the way,” Rice said. “Nuppnau has always put my health first and with Isaac I can always come to him with anything and he’ll be able to treat me no matter what. My parents of course have always been very helpful along the way and they let me decided what I can and can’t handle. Odds are I have a lot left in me.”
The process of going having juvenile rheumatoid arthritis isn’t’ something a normal high school teenager is used to dealing with. The first Monday of every month, Rice makes the trip to Riley hospital in Indianapolis for a monthly infusion. An IV gets put into Rice’s hand and for a period of about 4-5 hours she waits while the medication makes its way through her veins.
“My freshman year was the worst just because I hadn’t found the right medication yet,” Rice said. “From when I first diagnosed in seventh grade I was getting injections every Friday and I hated it. I went through a lot and was too young at the time do go through it all in my opinion, but once again my support system was able to get me through it. That’s when I really felt at my lowest because I was also just entering high school and getting adjusted to playing varsity minutes was a big challenge for me.”
With all of that going on at the beginning of her high school career, Rice could’ve focused on her health alone, but she embraced the challenge and persevered through it all. Rice wanted Nuppnau and the rest of the coaching staff to be coached just like everyone else even though she was going through way more than most.
“She wanted us to coach her as if she was 100 percent healthy even though we knew she wasn’t most of the time,” Nuppnau said. “She wanted that push from us so that she could continue to get better and she thrived on that. We asked a lot of her and other coaches took notice of that also. What’s she’s proven is that she has that mental toughness and has taken opportunity of everything she’s had. You could see how much fun she was having on the court especially this season.”
The overall arching point that Rice wants people to know is that it ultimately comes down to the individual no matter what they may be going through. Whether that be a personal matter, an injury etc. you’re the ultimate person who decides if you can overcome whatever obstacle may be lying in your way.
“You have to decide if you can overcome and do whatever it is you want to accomplish,” she said. “You can be whatever you want to be as long you’re determined.”
Rice certainly has become the person she wants to be and hasn’t let her rare condition get in her way. Rice wanted to share her story with the public and spread some inspiration. Most would say she’s done just that.