Bellaire CC runners share special moment

BELLAIRE – J.C. Zamora is your typical teenager.

The Bellaire Middle School seventh-grader likes to do things most kids his age like to do, including play sports.

But for Zamora, doing that is a challenge. That’s because he’s a cancer survivor. And not just any cancer.

Zamora was diagnosed at age 3 with rabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of the disease.

”He went into remission when he was six and relapsed at 9,” said his mother, Dana (Scarabino) Kovach. ”He just went back into remission last year and he’s cancer free.

”But there are a lot of side effects … a lot.

”He’s diabetic now. He lost an eye and has a prosthetic one and has lost almost all of his teeth.”

Zamora has also undergone cranial facial surgery and faces more soon.

”Despite all that, he’s a very determined, stubborn young man,” Kovach said. ”He’s a regular student and is with all the regular kids. All of the radiation to his brain hasn’t affected him intellectually.”

Now back in school and released by doctors to play non-contact sports, Zamora expressed an interest in running cross country.

It should come as no surprise as his mother ran track and was a sprinter, and his aunt, Toni Jo, was a standout distance runner at St. Clairsville.

After a family discussion, and a trip to Cleveland Clinic to get cleared, it was time to approach Bellaire head coach Chris Arno.

Arno had already had Zamora in science class, so he knew what type of young man he was getting.

”I knew he was just like the other kids in class,” he said. ”He is a very sincere person and wants to please people. He has a huge heart and tons of compassion for others.”

Still, would Zamora be able to tackle a cross country course?

”To be quite honest, I thought ‘How in the heck is this kid going to be able to run cross country when he had a hard time making it to school last year on a daily basis,”’ Arno said. ”This sport is hard enough for anyone that tries it. Add to the mix, someone who is dealing with everything that surrounds this ongoing battle, and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out.”

If Arno had any trepidations, they were quickly quelled by his wife, Ann, herself a cancer survivor.

”We talked on and off about how this could either be a good thing or bad thing for him,” Chris Arno recalled. ”In the end, we felt that with the family environment that we try to promote, only good things could happen.”

That put Kovach at ease.

”Chris and Ann were fantastic,” she said. ”They allowed him to come on to the team late.

”He gets no special treatment, etc. I like the fact he’s treated like every other kid on the team.

”(J.C.) wants to prove everyone wrong.”

Zamora got an opportunity to do that when the Big Reds ran in the Buckeye 8 Championships at Buckeye Local.

”He wasn’t feeling well that morning, but he was like ‘I’m running! I’m running in this meet!”’

Kovach sat patiently at the finish line and waited for her son. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, after most of the runners had crossed, here came J.C. But he wasn’t alone.

With him were other members of his middle school, along some members of the high school squad.

”They were helping him get to the finish line,” Kovach said, holding back tears. ”The sportsmanship they showed and how they supported him made me cry. I still cry.”

Kovach wasn’t the only one who had a few goosebumps.

”We had told a few of the kids that goal No. 1 was for J.C. to finish,” Chris Arno said. ”To look around the course and see parents from our school and other schools cheering him brought out a few tears. But to see team members joining him one by one and finishing with him brought a flood.

”Not sure if I have ever been prouder of our team than I was at that time.”

Along with Ann Arno, eighth grade runner Jonathan Shipe are also cancer survivors in the Big Red CC family.

”They both are just fighters,” Chris Arno said, ”and I honestly think they both felt like another victory was won for the good guys.

”J.C. is just a good fit into our country family. It takes a special person to be able to do this sport.”

Since then, J.C. has returned the favor.

Last week at Pickerington, a teammate was injured and couldn’t race.

”We gave the team a big pep talk about running the race for him,” Chris Arno said. ”As J.C. passes me during the race, he looks over at me, raises his fist and yells, ‘For Bellaire!”’

”He’s very supportive of the team.”