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This Patience Is Definitely a Virtue

by Lou Mulkern

Inspiration image

Star track and field thrower Patience Knight kept competing through chemotherapy treatment, setting records, and inspiring others along the way.
(Photo courtesy of Albert Ferreira/Startraks)

No one knows exactly what was going through Patience Knight’s mind as she stood onstage at New York’s Columbia University accepting the Honda Inspiration Award. But as she listened to the click of the cameras and saw the line of reporters waiting for their interviews, it’s safe to assume she was thinking one thing – “I’m a survivor!”

It had been a tough year. Patience, a standout track and field thrower at Texas Tech, had received news in February 2007 that there was a cancerous tumor near her heart.

Like most people, when Patience was first diagnosed with cancer, she thought she’d have to give up many of the things she loved doing. Naturally, she assumed she’d have to sit out track season while undergoing treatment. But not long after her biopsy, she told her doctor that she thought she felt well enough to resume training. He advised her that continuing with her normal routine would actually be the best thing for her health.

With the support of her coaches and teammates, Patience suited up and joined her team. Her perseverance paid off. As a Texas Tech Junior, she set a new school record of 56 feet, 8 inches in the shot put.

It wasn’t always easy. “When I first started training again, I couldn’t lift nearly as much weight as I was used to, and I was feeling sorry for myself a little bit,” says Patience. “But as my strength began to return, I felt that staying on the team was really the best thing I could do.”

“I feel blessed I was able to return to the sport I love. It was really like a dream come true.”

There were the inevitable setbacks. At the Nationals in 2007, Patience remembers feeling “not quite right.” When she got home, she learned that a small piece of the tubing used to feed the chemo drugs into her chest had been snipped off by the movement of her collarbone. The port was surgically replaced, the chemo flow resumed – and Patience got right back to training. Throughout chemotherapy, Patience continued training and competing, and upheld a 3.9 GPA.

All the hard work soon paid off. After returning to the field for the indoor season, Patience won the Texas Tech Open and the indoor Texas Tech Invitational in the shot put. She placed first at the Texas Tech Open and set a personal best in the event at the 2007 Dan DeHart Invitational with a throw of 53 feet, 1 inch.

“I feel blessed I was able to return to the sport I love,” she says. “It was really like a dream come true. My teammates and coaches were all really supportive of me right from the beginning, and that made a huge difference.”

Head coach Wes Kittley says that not only was Patience a great asset to the team as a championship thrower, she was also a tremendous inspiration to everyone. “In Patience, we had the greatest example of someone who just wouldn’t quit, who continued to fight cancer and the feeling of being sick because she wanted to be a part of our team. That really helped put things into perspective for us all. We rallied around her to make her well, and in turn, she helped make us well.”

The 2008 season was a breakout year for Patience. During the indoor season she earned her first All-America honor and won the Big 12 Indoor Championships in the shot put. During the outdoor season, she set another school record in the shot put with a throw of 57 feet, 11 inches.

Patience’s amazing story soon received national attention and recognition. On June 22nd, 2008, she was honored with the 20th annual Honda Inspiration Award, given annually to an outstanding female college athlete who has overcome adversity to excel in her sport. Patience was chosen not only for her athletic achievements, but also for her strength of character and for the outstanding example she set for young women everywhere.

And the best news of all? Patience is now cancer-free.

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This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2009.