Middle schooler postpones amputation to fulfill basketball dream

Cameron Smith

Everyone has a dream. Some pine for wild professional success. Others wish for perennial good health. Alyssia Crook's dream was much more simple: She just wanted to play on her school's girls basketball team, at least once.

Yet, according to Grand Rapids Press columnist Tom Rademacher, that dream was imperiled by congenital health problems facing the 12-year-old, with defects to her legs leaving the lower half of her body significantly less responsive than that of most people. In recent months, the problems finally reached a head, with doctors determining on Feb. 28 that "dozens of surgeries" and frequent painful leg-straightening procedures were unable to fix her problems.

Suddenly, Crook and her parents were left with two nearly unthinkable options: Either shorten both of the pre-teen's limbs and live with near constant worry that they could be further injured, or amputate her left leg, which has always been more affected than her right.

Crook eventually chose the latter, more drastic option, but she refused to have her leg amputated until she got one last shot at her dream: Playing basketball for the Baldwin (Mich.) Middle School team. Thanks to coach Steve Roth, she got her chance. After serving as a scorekeeper for the team throughout the season, Crook got in her first game on March 9, in her team's matchup with Rockford (Mich.) Middle School. Days later, she scored her first point on a free-throw attempt.

Then, in the team's final game of the season, Crook got her first and last start as a basketball player, in a matchup against Zeeland (Mich.) West Middle School. In the final game she would ever play on two legs, the 12-year-old overcame the mobility problems that were always an issue to stun both her opponent and her teammates. She registered the first steal of her career within 30 seconds of tip-off, adding a second theft and a layup later in the game.

Making the story all the more touching is Crook's sincere understanding of exactly what she's giving up. The pre-teen decided to have her leg amputated after what she's convinced was a vision from God, one in which she envisioned an amputee mother watching her children play soccer and basketball. She is convinced the amputee mother in her vision was herself, and that she was better off choosing a future with her body at her already diminutive 4-foot-8, regardless of whether that included an artificial limb.

"This is my body, my leg, my life, and I know God told me it's my decision," she said. "I choose to be a mom that can play with her children."

And then the seventh-grader implored her mother to call the doctors and tell them she wouldn't be hobbling around on legs half their size, "because (the doctors are) going to be cutting off my leg."

When she does have children of her own, Crook will be able to show them some pretty special footage of a truly impressive, passionate seventh-grader, thanks to her grandfather, who captured her final basketball game on video.
"I wanted to play with the real team," Crook told MLive.com. "I wanted to be part of something. And when I grow up, I want to be playing with my kids, not a spectator.

"Someday. I want to be able to show my kids that I played basketball with both legs."

She can, and she can also deliver an important message with more authority than anyone else.

"Tell kids no matter if you are different, whatever person you are, God made you and you're beautiful in every way," Crook told MLive.com.

Truer words may never have been spoken.

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