On the outside, euphoria surrounded Astrid Same.
The kind of euphoria reserved for when you surpass what you thought were your limitations, such as last spring when Same came through with the best shot-put throw of her life, a two-foot improvement out to 41 feet, 91/2 inches, to win the Class 6A championship.
But on the inside, chaos had turned over her life. In the last month, she had missed practices and meets, even days of school. She actually told the East track and field coaches she was quitting the team.
Somehow, in the most improbable way possible, here she was on top of a podium in front of thousands of people at Cessna Stadium being celebrated as a champion.
“I can remember thinking, ‘This probably shouldn’t be happening,’ ” Same said. “It’s pretty insane to think about it now.”
Same’s life changed that day.
That was the day that Astrid and the Same family realized they were going to survive their youngest, Thom, not even out of the second grade at the time, being diagnosed with lymphoma.
• • •
When the bloodwork on Thom came back and the doctors relayed the news to Friede Same, his mother, it devastated the family.
Friede’s husband is a doctor who works primarily overseas, leaving her at home alone with three children: Astrid, Samuel, and Thom.
“In the beginning, you ask a lot of questions,” Friede said. “Why us? Why is this happening to our little boy? Why do we have to go through this?”
Astrid, a sophomore at the time, struggled to juggle three sports, the cello, and her volunteer work with the demands of East’s International Baccalaureate program, all while worrying about her little brother.
When Astrid told coach Michael Draut and throws coach Russ Wells, she was quitting the team, Same was taken aback by the amount of support given to her. They reassured her that they would support her either way.
It was that compassion that led to her reconsidering and working out a practice schedule that allowed her to spend more time with Thom and her family.
“In the end, you don’t really understand how much family means to you until there’s a chance you might lose them,” Astrid said.
• • •
Astrid Same is an accomplished three-sport athlete, being named second-team All-City volleyball as an outside hitter and honorable mention as a post in basketball.
But she did not grow up playing for club teams or honing her athletic skills at an early age. She was cut from her seventh-grade volleyball team, and she didn’t pick up a shot until she was in the eighth grade.
She has her mother’s work ethic.
“If you want to have good grades, you have to study,” Friede tells her children. “If you want to be great at sports, you have to work at it. You can’t just stay at home and rest on the couch, then wake up in the morning and be great. No, you have to work at it.”
Same has what Wells calls a “fast-twitch arm.” The shot put explodes from her arm, a trait that all good throwers share.
But a state championship doesn’t come from natural ability alone.
“A lot of kids want to come out and joke around and have fun in practice,” Wells said. “Astrid is there to work. It’s like that kid in the weight room who will find the squat rack in the corner where no one else is and just goes to work. She’ll take her shots and she’s not there to talk about what was going on in school that day. She’s ready to go.”
• • •
Same still has a difficult time explaining that day her life changed.
She knew she could break the 40-foot barrier, but she did not know she could do it five straight times to win a state championship.
“PR’ing by two feet at the state meet doesn’t usually happen,” Same said. “I kind of came out of nowhere to win.”
Thom’s diagnosis had brought the four of them closer together than ever before. Their emotions were spent, their spirits at a low, but they were going through it together. And then Same won and in this immense time of sadness, the family finally had cause for celebration.
“It made us realize that by ourselves, we are nothing,” Friede said. “But together, we are strong. When she won, it helped all of us. The value of family is so strong now. You don’t realize how precious life can be until you go through something like that.”
The memory that still makes the family laugh is the weekend after the state meet, when Thom was moved to a hospital in Kansas City, and Friede entered the room to have a nurse congratulate her on her daughter’s championship.
“How did she know?” Friede said. “It was so funny because Thom was telling everyone there, ‘Hey, guess what? My sister is a state champion!’ He didn’t know what the shot put was, but he was telling everybody. He was so proud of her.”
The chaos has subsided.
Same is having the best season of her career (she broke East’s school record with a new personal-best throw of 42-4, the top mark in 6A this season) and the lymphoma discovered in Thom, now 8, has been in remission and all signs are looking good.
“This season has been so much more stress-free,” Astrid said. “I’m actually having fun and enjoying it now.”
Win or lose Friday morning, Same has something more than another state title could ever mean: her family.
“We are all so proud of her, my first-born,” Friede said. “As a parent, you always want what’s best for your kids and we want them to excel. But what she has done is incredible, and not just because she’s mine. There’s nothing more she can do to make me more proud.”