March 17, 2013

Cheerleader rises above losing her leg to cancer

The New Bedford teen inspires others by learning to run, jump and tumble with her prosthetic leg.

By LAURIE LOS The Standard-Times

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Alexis Morel leads cheers at a boy’s basketball game in New Bedford, Mass., in January. Her abilities surprise many who expect her to be held back by her prosthetic leg.

AP Photo/The Standard-Times/Mike Valeri

"She's tried it so many times, but she just can't do it," Aiello said. "Once in a while, she'll say 'I physically cannot do that,' but she doesn't use her leg as an excuse."

Sometimes it hurts Morel to run long distances, but she does it and pays the price after practice with swelling, bruises and irritation on her leg.

"If I have a long day at practice, my leg will really swell the next day. In the morning, it can be difficult," she said. "If my leg sweats a lot, the rubbing from my liner and my leg in the socket, it can cause an irritation."

But for Morel, it's all worth it.

"Cheerleading is my life," she said. "It's really important to me. I missed so much before (because of the cancer) so now that's all I want to do."

When Morel returned to cheerleading, her mom's biggest concern was that she wouldn't be treated the same as others.

"I just hoped that she didn't get disqualified for being disabled or that they would look at her differently," Julie Morel said. "She's been able to do more than others that have tried out because she's been a cheerleader since she was a little girl. I didn't have any doubt. I was just hoping she was going to make it and they weren't going to judge her differently because she's an amputee now."

Because part of her prosthetic leg is metal, Morel must cover it with an ace bandage and wrap it in gold duct tape at competitions.

This made her feel uncomfortable, so her teammates decided to wear a gold strip on their legs as well.

"Everybody had a gold strip on their legs so the judges asked 'What's that?' and I said 'Because we have one girl that has to do it, then the whole team is going to do it,'" Aiello said. "It worked out well that the color for her cancer was gold and our school color is gold."

Earlier this season at another competition, Aiello overheard a judge saying to someone that having Morel tape her prosthetic leg was not a big deal because "she's not going to be doing too much anyway."

"I just looked behind me and shook my head," said Aiello. "Then the first thing Lexy did was a running tumbling pass and they were like 'Holy crap, maybe she can do a lot.' People are thrown by her. They don't expect her to do anything."

The most challenging part for Morel is when people stare at her.

"I'm fine if you ask me about my leg, but I don't like when people stare," said Morel, adding that she understands how her cheerleading can be an inspiration to others.

"The way she approaches the whole thing, it's inspiring," said Aiello. "So many people would have taken that situation and made it 'woe is me' and not gone back to what they love and she didn't. She just has so much spirit."

Although Morel has experienced some dark days, she's been able to have a bright attitude, knowing that one day things would get better.

On a visit to the doctor recently, she found out that for now at least, she's cancer-free.

"The doctor said she has no limits," Julie Morel said. "She can jump. She can run. She can do anything. Her blood is good. She's normal again, which is awesome."


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