Louis Zamperini, an Olympic distance runner, survived a plane crash during a mission in World War II. Zamperini became a prisoner of war, surviving the odds despite experiencing brutal torture and suffering.
One of the veteran’s famous quotes is one that Tallulah Falls School junior Kale Corbett says is his favorite, “If you can take it, you can make it.”
Zamperini also has famously said, “I'd made it this far and refused to give up because all my life I had always finished the race.”
Corbett of Lakemont is cut from the same cloth as a WWII vet. So too, is fellow TFS junior athlete Cainan Yaskiewicz of Highlands, NC.
"Jesus has placed another great guy in my life to walk with me through these post-treatment years. It has been a developing relationship; we said we were cancer bros! The cancer bro bond can't be broken," said Cainan Yaskiewicz
A cross country runner himself, Corbett was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) at 10 years old. His parents, Tim and Brandy, both coaches at TFS, are his greatest supporters. They wouldn’t let their oldest child quit fighting. Likewise, Yaskiewicz, who plays both baseball and soccer, is a survivor of ALL after also being diagnosed at 7 years old. The duo share a similar story that by fate has found its way to TFS. Teachers, coaches, and administrators can tell there’s something different about these two young men who have a different light inside them.
“Kale knows what pain, discomfort, and opportunity look like, so he gets others to join in the joy of being together,” cross country coach Scott Neal says. “He is a strong leader with a kind heart, respectful and grateful attitude, and tenacious competitiveness.”
In other words, he just won’t give up. Corbett, a three-sport star who also plays basketball and golf, hopes to one day have his parents’ qualities.
“During my bone marrow transplant [my parents] were always by my side and made sure I did everything to ensure a healthy recovery. On the days I didn't feel good and didn't want to do what the doctor prescribed, they were there to motivate me. If it hadn't been for all of their amazing care during that time, I might not be here today.”
His ordeal as a child was quite difficult, as he was given just a 15% chance of surviving at the time. In preparing for a transplant, doctors’ orders were to quit all sports.
“They said I might not be able to play sports again and this was devastating to me,” Corbett says.
The treatment made him very weak, and he gained a lot of weight from the steroids he was on.
“It was my goal to get back to sports, back in shape, and to show the world that a little cancer wasn't going to stop me. With lots of hard work and diligence, I am where I am today – a three-sport athlete enjoying every moment I get to play the sports I love.”
Yaskiewicz has a similar story. A limp and bruises came and went, then returned with a fever and the inability to walk. Suddenly, his life changed with the diagnoses of ALL and 98% cancer cells in his body. Within 12 days after beginning treatment, he was down to less than 5%.
“Before I went into my biopsy I was very scared, but all of a sudden I heard Jesus speak to me,” Yaskiewicz says. “He said, ‘Do not be afraid! Everything will be okay.’ From that moment on I was at peace. This whole experience has taught me so much about trusting in the Lord and to never give up no matter what. It changed my work ethic and gave me the drive to do my best in everything that I do. I live by the verse Philippians 4:13.”
His coaches, much like Corbett’s, see the difference in work ethic, motivation, and that tenacity that is so hard to coach.
“Cainan is as hard of a worker as I have ever coached,” states baseball coach Mark Wilcox. “He is always willing to do anything extra that he can do for himself or the team.”
Echoes soccer coach Jeremy Stille, “He is always reflecting on his performances, as well as the team's, trying to find ways he can improve and make a difference on the field.”
The similarities between the two friends extend to their desired career paths. It makes sense that both young men want to give back and turn their past darkness into a beacon of light.
Corbett already knows his career path is destined for the medical field as an oncology nurse practitioner. Not surprisingly, Yaskiewicz also plans on going to medical school to train to be a pediatric oncologist.
“I'd especially love to work with children and help them through their journey with my personal experiences from my treatment,” says Corbett about his desire to give back.
These guys have spent their free time giving back, such as Corbett’s community service work in St. Martin’s last summer and Yaskiewicz’s involvement in N.C. Baptist Builders, a disaster construction mission group.
Both TFS student-athletes excel in the classroom, as Corbett has a 4.32 weighted GPA and Yaskiewicz a 4.28. The duo, though participating in multiple sports, use athletics as a way to draw others toward a common goal of overcoming adversity. They are inspired by their experience as cancer survivors, unwilling to go down without a fight. Their bond is tight and pre-determined.
“It definitely caught me by surprise when I found out that there was someone that I was going to school with that had cancer too,” Yaskiewicz says. “There is always a special bond. Jesus put somebody in my life every step of the way that understood me and stayed with me. Now that I'm at Tallulah, Jesus has placed another great guy in my life to walk with me through these post-treatment years. It has been a developing relationship; we said we were cancer bros! The cancer bro bond can't be broken. Even when we leave for college and onto our lives, him being my first and only cancer brother that I have I will remember for many years to come.”
For Corbett and Yaskiewicz, the light inside them stems from their experiences. It has changed their outlook in every arena of their lives.
“A lot of times in sports, but mostly in life, you come across challenges that are unexpected and unwanted,” Corbett says. “These obstacles can be emotionally and physically exhausting and can make you want to give up. But when this happens keep on going and tell yourself: ‘If you can take it, you can make it.'"
Photos provided by TFS School