Ottumwa --- The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines adversity as "a state or instance of serious or continued difficulty and misfortune." Erin Kuba, freshman third baseman for the Indian Hills Warriors softball team, certainly knows all about adversity. In fact, Kuba has shown courage in the face of adversity since eighth grade when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Doctors were forced to remove her thyroid as well as five lymph nodes in the process. It was a long road to recovery for Kuba, but it didn't stop the Cedar Rapids, Iowa native from chasing her dreams of becoming a collegiate athlete.
Kuba continued to play softball after her thyroid removal and made the choice to attend Indian Hills Community College during the fall of her senior year at Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School. She felt her relationship with the IHCC coaches, as well as their caring demeanor and passion to build the Indian Hills softball program into a powerhouse, were key reasons she chose to commit to Indian Hills. Gaining a quality education was also important to Kuba, and now over halfway through her freshman year at IHCC she plans to obtain her associate of arts degree and then transfer to a four-year school to continue playing softball while majoring in physical education.
The Indian Hills softball squad began practice, and played a dozen or so games, this past September, just a few weeks after Kuba arrived on campus. The new recruit was excited to get to work after Head Coach Laura North led the team to a 41-19 record, Region XI and District J titles, as well as an NJCAA D1 National Tournament berth during the 2016 season. However, it wasn't too far into the fall season when Kuba faced adversity yet again. She was hospitalized twice during fall practice for heat-related illnesses, including a heat stroke which stemmed from her thyroid cancer. One of the key functions of the thyroid is to regulate body temperature. Since Kuba no longer has a thyroid, this can be a potentially dangerous situation, especially playing in the heat that can accompany Midwest fall and spring weather. Such weather requires her to use ice or fans to help her body cool down. Kuba says the hardest part is working with her doctors to find the correct dosage for her medication to manage her cancer. This includes making trips to the University of Iowa every six months for checkups. "Somedays I'll be normal, and then other days I'll just be dragging, tired, and sluggish. This makes it hard to concentrate. Those days you've just got to work through it," said Kuba. Coach North was quick to point out that Kuba doesn't let those tough days get the best of her. "Despite Erin's challenges, she brings 100% effort every day, with a positive attitude and outlook on life. There are no excuses from her," said her coach.
Kuba credits North for being extremely helpful and supportive throughout her time at Indian Hills, saying "She's been like a mom to me." Kuba admits she was nervous making the transition from high school to college, wondering how things would work out with her health while juggling the duties of a college student-athlete. Any worries she may have had entering college were soon washed away. "The trainers and coaching staff have gone above and beyond what I could have imagined in making sure things go as smoothly as possible," said Kuba. "The coaches are such genuine people with an edge of competitiveness to win games, which is why I chose to come to Indian Hills in the first place." Of course, having a close-knit bunch of teammates helps as well. Kuba arrived at Indian Hills and joined six sophomore team members whom she credited as accepting her with open arms, taking each of the freshmen under their wings in order to show them the culture and standards that were expected from an Indian Hills softball player. It's this type of culture that has helped to fashion coach North's Indian Hills softball teams into an annual region championship contender.
Despite all of the hardships she has gone through since the age of fourteen when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Kuba remains as motivated as ever and has been able to find a silver lining. "It really gives you a reality check at a young age about what is important in life and what you enjoy doing every day. As far as athletics go, that's my motivation each day. I've seen the kids that have lost their battles to cancer. I can't feel bad in my situation when a lot of people have it a lot worse than I do. I'm still blessed to be able to go out and play softball every day." Kuba's health struggles serve as a reminder for the rest of the Indian Hills softball players of just how fortunate they are. Her determination and resolve are just a few of the attributes that Kuba's teammates look up to. "Her situation gives everyone of us on the team a reminder to always have perspective," said North. "Softball is extremely important to all of us, but family is more important. Erin is an amazing softball player, but an even more amazing young woman."
The Indian Hills softball team will be hosting a cancer awareness game, dubbed "StrikeOut Cancer," in their home double-header matchup against Illinois Central College on Saturday, March 25 with the first pitch slated for 12:00 p.m. This will be a National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) registered event with opportunities to donate to a particular cancer foundation as well as participate in activities throughout the day. Coach North and the players invite fans, friends, and family to come out to R.L. Hellyer Field that day to help strike out cancer and encourage those like Erin Kuba to continue their fight.
-- Story written by Brent Ewing, IHCC Athletics Communications Assistant