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updated: 9/19/2012 8:18 PM

Glenbard West's Cipriano stronger than she thought

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It is not wrong for a man to cry when on the other end of the phone a 17-year-old girl pours out her soul in comments so poignant, so tragic but uplifting, they grip your heart.

On Wednesday, for the first time since last November when her junior gymnastics season at Glenbard West ended abruptly and unfairly, Genevieve Cipriano was set to return to the Hilltoppers squad.

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On Tuesday night she didn't know exactly what would unfold or what her position with the team would be -- manager? confidante? -- because in April doctors amputated her right hip and leg after she'd been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer.

"I've taught myself a handstand so far, but I haven't actually been on the mat yet," said Cipriano, who in 2011 had been tabbed by coach Carlos Fuentes as one of the Hilltoppers' top-three balance beam specialists after competing in junior varsity all-around as a freshman and sophomore.

"Before I knew I was going to lose my leg I was planning on going back," she said. "And I was always determined to go back anyway, because I loved gymnastics. It was my favorite thing to do because it was so freeing. So I always said I'd go back no matter what."

No matter what.

Such a courageous statement from a girl whose mother, Beth, said underwent "16 or 18" chemotherapy treatments surrounding the April operation. First noticed last November as discomfort that did not improve, the cancer did not touch her right leg itself but had infiltrated tissues in her pelvis and would have rendered the leg useless. She now uses a prosthesis.

"She wouldn't have had the joint or the nerves to control it," Beth Cipriano said.

"Obviously, the team just felt for her so much," said Fuentes, who sees Genevieve in school every morning, right across the hall from his Spanish language class. "They were crushed by it. Genevieve was a normal girl just like everybody else on the team -- it could have been any of them at any time, you couldn't have known. Three weeks prior to that she was the same high school girl, like anybody else."

Her new physical state is obvious. Mentally, Cipriano has searched herself. She has evolved.

"I like who I am more as a person," she said, an artist with a tentative career goal of fashion design. "The way I think about things and people, and not judging people by the way they look, things like that. I think everyone kind of judges people by the way they look. But looking back, that's part of myself that I didn't like."

From 7-11 p.m. Friday at the Lake Ellyn Boathouse there will be a fundraiser for Genevieve, who will face a lifetime of mobility challenges and costs to facilitate them. A wine tasting, hors d'oeuvres and a silent auction of artwork is the plan, with a cost of $50 a person. Registration is at genevievesjourney.tumblr.com/GenevievesEvent. Donations also are being taken at the youcaring.com site, where her story can be read.

Her feelings still at the surface, this event will likely be an emotional one. We suspect her return to Glenbard West's gymnastics team was as well.

"I'm frankly amazed that she is even going to do it," Beth Cipriano said Tuesday. "And I'm excited for her to get her strength back and be around the sport that she loves."

It is amazing, how tragedy can bring out the best in people.

"I'm stronger than I thought I was," Genevieve said.

Flash some leather

The Bulls/Sox Academy, in conjunction with the White Sox, is collecting new and used baseball gloves to donate to Chicago youngsters in the Inner City Youth Baseball League.

If you plan to be near a location through Saturday (the "Gift of Glove" drive ends Sunday) and have an unused glove looking for some action, drop it off at the Academy in Lisle or one of the satellite facilities in Glen Ellyn, LaGrange or even Schererville, Ind.

The individual who donates the most gloves, at each of the four locations, will win four tickets to the Sept. 28 White Sox game against the Devil Rays, where they will meet a White Sox player pregame and receive an autographed jersey.

Visit BullsSoxAcademy.com for details and directions.

The Nightmare from Elm Street

"Nightmare" they called him in Germany, because the general manager of the Frankfurt Universe professional football team saw that Josh McLeod's home address in Lisle was on Elm Street.

"Everyone called me 'Nightmare,' even my roommates," said McLeod, a star at Lisle Senior High, then an all-conference safety at North Central College. "They called me Nightmare instead of my name. It started as a joke, but it caught on."

As did McLeod. Two days after graduating from North Central College with a degree in elementary education, he joined a group of Cardinals football players for a trip to Barcelona. Then came a direct flight to Frankfurt. Universe fans met him at the airport on June 19, and five days later he was on the field.

After helping Frankfurt to a 9-4-1 record in the South Division of the German Football League 2, McLeod returned to Lisle on Sept. 11.

"I would compare it to lower-level Division III football," said McLeod, one of four Americans on the team. "The Americans were good, and obviously some German players were good, but they just don't have the experience. They've only been playing for a couple years."

McLeod -- who before leaving did his student teaching at Scott Elementary in Naperville and was named one of the town's "Fascinating Faces" by the Glancer Magazine -- played 10 games and finished third on the Universe in tackles, with 60. Playing for $550 euros a month, the 23-year-old made 4 interceptions and returned one for a touchdown, a first for him.

"That was really exciting for me," he said. "I had one in high school, but it got called back."

Football was old hat to McLeod, but the culture was all new. Despite the language barrier he spent more time with his friendly German teammates than with the Americans, and the natives helped him traverse not only modern Frankfurt but more "authentic" German towns.

On team trips he visited infamous sites in Nuremberg and Berlin, and when his girlfriend, Alicia Torimoto, came on vacation, the couple visited Italy and France. McLeod found Rome so interesting on Monday he bought a book on ancient ruins.

"Honestly, my experience there couldn't have went any better," he said.

He's angling for a tryout with teams in the Arena and Canadian leagues, and there's a chance he could play next year in Frankfurt, which would love for him to return.

Currently though, he's experiencing the American nightmare -- finding employment in his field.

"Right now I'm just trying to stick with teaching, get a job," he said.

doberhelman@dailyherald.com

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