Sports Person of the Week
Bargnesi Ready for Triumphant Return to the Field
Lana Bargnesi will be competing for the Valley Regional field hockey team for the first time as a senior after having served as the team’s manager for the past two seasons. After osteosarcoma led to the amputation of her right leg, Lana has been cancer-free for more than a year and a half and will join the Warriors by using a prosthetic leg specifically designed for athletic competition. (Photo courtesy of Lana Bargnesi )
Lana Bargnesi will return to athletic competition this fall for the first time since her freshman year at Valley Regional High School. It will also be the first time that she plays field hockey since attending John Winthrop Middle School.
Lana served as the team manager for the Valley field hockey squad for the past two seasons after she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma—a type of bone cancer—in the tibia of her right leg in the fall of 2017. Following a long battle that included extended stays in the hospital, multiple surgeries, a recurrence of the cancer, and chemotherapy, Lana and her medical team at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute ultimately decided that amputating her leg would be the best course of action. Now with a new running prosthetic and plenty of training, the senior will be suiting up for the Warriors.
Lana hasn’t been able to take part in any sport since playing soccer for Valley as a freshman. Lana managed the field hockey team in her sophomore year and enjoyed holding that role, but now she feels like she can bring much more to the Warriors by picking up a stick and competing.
“I am beyond thrilled to be able to play this year. I haven’t played an organized sport for 3 ½ years,” Lana says. “Being a manager, I was always a part of the team, but now I feel like I am really contributing. I can’t wait to be back out on the field and get back what I lost.”
Lana’s return has been a long road, and she believes that the process of getting back on the field has showed her just how resilient she can be. During her most trying times, Lana found joy in watching her fraternal twin sister Leah compete.
“I was in and out of the hospital for three years, and I was just very sick. You lose everything going through something like that. I was living through my sister Leah,” says Lana. “It means so much to me to get back out on the field. Being back out there just proves to my younger self that we did it. I’m a year-and-a-half cancer-free. I will be two years cancer-free in December.”
While Lana was happy to see her sister compete, she also found that experience difficult in other ways. It was a complicated set of emotions for Lana, like two sides of the same coin.
“I got the gossip from Leah and knew what was going on at school, but I’d feel left out from it. I couldn’t go to dances. It was really hard. I had to hide a lot of emotions, because I didn’t want Leah to feel guilty,” Lana says. “At the same time, I’m glad I got the cancer and not her. I could not have survived with her being sick. It was like a double-edged sword.”
Even though Lana would rather be playing field hockey, she still appreciates her tenure as Valley’s manager. After spending so much time in the hospital, just being a part of the team was a big help to Lana. It also offered her the opportunity to understand the game in a new way by learning from Head Coach Beth McCabe Powers.
“Being a manager on the field hockey team gave me a sense of normalcy back. I could take my mind off of the treatment. I was excited to have something to focus on. It was a huge factor in how I got through it a second time,” says Lana, who lives in Chester. “Everyone just felt like family. Coach Beth is a twin, too. She’s the most supportive, the kindest, and sweetest ever. I picked up a ton of how the game works from watching all the time. I have a different perspective of how the game works, maybe even more than the average player would. I think it will be a big benefit to me.”
Lana’s new prosthetic leg has made playing sports possible, but it’s not as simple as just fitting the prosthetic and going out to play. Even Lana’s walking prosthetic requires a tremendous amount of effort on her part in order to be mobile. The athletic version requires even more exertion.
“I have different legs for different activities. I have an everyday walking leg, a leg for the water, and a leg for running. I got the running leg at the end of June, and it’s fairly new to me,” Lana says. “I did a lot of running around the Old Saybrook track. I’ve been trying to do as many laps as I can without stopping. I did a lot of practicing with my sister on the goal there, too.”
“The walking leg I’ve had for about a year and a half,” she continues. “It’s way different than walking with two legs. It takes a lot of energy. The mechanics aren’t like a regular leg. It’s computerized, so it goes back by itself, but I have to make it swing out. The running leg is all manual.”
Just getting to the point of being able to train with the running prosthetic has taken a great effort from Lana. She knows that it’s only going to get more challenging during Valley’s practices.
“The most rewarding thing I’ve done was when I took my first step. I was in a wheelchair, then on crutches. When I took my first step, I knew the whole world was going to open up for me,” says Lana. “I feel like the first practice, it’s going to hit me. I know I won’t be as good as I used to be. I know that will hit me hard, but I’ll have to keep a positive mind. I know that I’m doing this for fun.”
Lana doesn’t plan on stopping at field hockey. As she keeps getting stronger, Lana plans to hit the track and run alongside her sister. Lana just wants to keep building her strength and endurance.
“I would definitely try track. My sister is a good runner. I would like to try that and be the only amputee running. Running is what I want to do,” Lana says. “I had to get strong enough and confident with my regular leg and build up the stamina to even be able to run like 10 feet. I have a Peloton bike at home. I do a lot of riding on that. I had to do a lot of practicing of walking around the mall for stamina. Right now, we’re trying to strengthen my hamstrings. It will take a long time to get that where it used to be, but that’s where we’re at right now.”
Coach McCabe Powers loves what Lana brought to the Warriors as their manager. However, she believes that having Lana on the field will be an inspiration to everyone on her squad.
“We are all very excited to have Lana join us this season. Her hard work is inspiring to the whole team. Lana is kind and giving of her time, and she’s very encouraging to the underclassmen as they embark on a new season,” McCabe Powers says. “Her motivation, I am certain, will become infectious to all of us. She inspires me to work my hardest every day.”
Lana’s experience as a cancer survivor makes her want to help others who are going through similar situations. Lana plans to pursue a career as a nurse, but in the meantime, she’s lending a hand by providing support for various patients.
“I do a lot of reaching out to cancer patients and amputees. There are five people I’m talking to from all over about getting through cancer. We have a group chat with all of my cancer friends. I try to help them or give them tips,” Lana says. “I want to be a nurse practitioner. It’s scary, because I know it’s a hard field to get into. I was living around nurses 24-7, so I want to take that and apply it to my everyday job.”
Through all of the hardships, Lana knows that she has gained a lot by being a member of the Valley field hockey team. Lana feels grateful to everyone who has helped make her return to the field possible.
“I just want to thank everyone,” says Lana. “I want to thank Coach Beth, [Assistant] Coach [Randy] Netsch for being so supportive and making field hockey one of the best things that ever happened to me.”