Skylar Scarnecchia, an eighth-grader from Champion Township, Ohio, overcame a rare cancer diagnosis and amputation to return to playing competitive sports. Scarnecchia will be honored with the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award during the 20th Greater Cleveland Sports Awards presented by Medical Mutual and Huntington on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel Grand Ballroom
In 2015, Scarnecchia began to experience discomfort on the bottom of her right foot causing her to limp. She was treated for plantar fasciitis, however the pain continued to intensify.
In efforts to find the cause of the pain, Scarnecchia’s mother asked for an MRI to be taken which revealed a tumor on the bottom of her foot. Scarnecchia, who was 10 years old at the time, was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare form of soft-tissue cancer.
A full-body scan found three additional spots on her lung. Her case was reviewed by the Cleveland Clinic tumor board who put together a treatment plan. Scarnecchia started chemotherapy, receiving treatment once a week for three months.
At the end of Scarnecchia’s treatment, a scan showed two of the three spots on her lung had gone away. However, the tumor on the ball of her right foot had not responded to chemotherapy. Because of the location of the tumor and the need to remove all of the cancer on her foot, amputation was recommended. This decision was made together with Skylar’s family and surgeon, Nathan Mesko, M.D., director of Musculoskeletal Oncology in the Orthopaedic & Rheumatologic Institute and co-director of the Sarcoma Center at Cleveland Clinic.
In December 2016, Scarnecchia had surgery to amputate below the knee on her right leg. With the surgery and intense treatment that followed, she missed the entire fifth-grade school year but remained determined to get back to playing sports. She was fitted for a prosthetic leg in March 2017, and then was sized for the prosthetic blade runner a few months later. By August 2017, Scarnecchia was back on the soccer field and then followed that by participating in travel basketball.
“From the very first time I met Skylar, she had a bright spin on things,” said Dr. Mesko. “She has overcome so many hurdles, and despite massive obstacles, has turned every situation into something positive. Her fighting spirit and tenacity is truly inspiring.”
In July 2019, a routine follow-up showed that she is 32 months in remission. In addition to soccer, the middle schooler participates in track and field and volleyball. Scarnecchia recently signed with a professional talent agency and is excited to use that platform to increase awareness of sarcoma as well as prove to others that being amputee does not slow you down.
“Fighting for my life motivated me to inspire others and tell them I survived,” said Scarnecchia. “I’m so humbled and honored to be given this opportunity to start sharing my story and hopefully inspire other kids by letting them know they can win what they may think is tiring and impossible.”
Sarnecchia is currently in eighth grade at Champion Middle School and lives with Patricia and Jim, her parents, and Isaiah, her older brother. She has a public Instagram account, @IamSkylarStrong that she uses to raise awareness of childhood cancer and life after amputation. Additionally, Scarnecchia has a pelican named after her from Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida, whose leg is permanently misshapen due to a previous injury.
Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award is given to an athlete who displays courage beyond the boundaries of their playing field, in order to inspire those around them.
Greater Cleveland Sports Awards is the premier annual sports fundraiser that supports Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and celebrates Cleveland’s professional, collegiate and high school sports achievements. The event will feature appearances from national sports celebrities along with a formal dinner and awards ceremony honoring the top athletic moments from 2019.
Tickets and tables for Sports Awards are available for purchase at clevelandsportsawards.com.
Recipients of the Courage Award presented by Cleveland Clinic Sports Health include:
2019 – Skylar Scarnecchia, Champion Township, Basketball, Soccer, Track & Field and Volleyball
2018 – Sophia Pecjak, Mentor, Soccer and Basketball
2017 – Samer Babi, North Olmsted, Football
2016 – Kendra Seitz, Hudson, Competitive Swimming
2015 – Colin Teets, Westlake, Hockey
2014 – Nick Lenyo, Huron, Football
2013 – Courteney Belmonte, Westlake, Competitive Cheerleading
2012 – Molly Miller, Notre Dame Academy, Soccer
2011 – Brandee Kelly, Cleveland State University, Basketball
2010 – Olivia Warhop, Hathaway Brown School, Swimming and Soccer
2009 – Gyasi Cooper, St. Ignatius High School, Track & Field
2008 – Eric Anderson, Jr., Gilmour Academy, Basketball