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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Sports > General

20/20 on 2020 senior athletes: Fallsburg's Amanda Zeno

Jun 15, 2020

By Richard Ross - reporter/photographer

Amanda Zeno
FALLSBURG -- This is a story of loss, Profound loss, but far from a final defeat.
The loss described herein suffered by Fallsburg basketball superstar Amanda Zeno stands out with stunning singularity, far weightier than that of not being able to play in the last season of her high school career, something every young man and woman featured in this 20/20 on 2020 senior athlete series has had to contend with.
Everything is relative in life, including the experience of loss. For each of the featured senior athletes, the cancellation of their final season was hard to reckon with. But each found a way to move on, to plan for the future and to look back on their high school sports years with gratitude and pride.
Zeno should have been one of them, her future bright and promising with colleges knocking at her door.
But a year ago in the spring, before her senior year even began, she was suddenly stricken with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Her health spiraled downward into frightening uncertainty, her very life hanging in the balance and for her, worst of all, she lost her capacity to play basketball in the time that it mattered most, the preamble to her senior year and college recruitment. In short the abeyance of the thing she relishes so dearly, became a loss that words cannot deem to express.

Loss takes on
a new meaning
Throughout her career as one of Section Nine's most outstanding basketball players, Zeno encountered loss as all athletes do. Always in search of ways to step up her game, she looked to herself critically to find that something extra to turn that next potential loss into victory.
She accepted loss as part of the endeavor. There would always be the next game, the next tournament, the next season and ultimately, the next level. Any loss could be supplanted by victory and put behind her. But Zeno now knows what real loss means.
A painter loses his sight and can no longer see what his creative vision creates on the canvas. A musician suffers a loss of hearing and cannot hear the notes to the music that stirs his soul. A runner suffers a mishap and loses his ability to race. For Zeno, the loss of basketball, while seemingly not as tragic as those scenarios, is shattering and to this very day something that renders her at times inconsolable.

In a New York minute
everything can change
In the spring of 2019 Zeno was playing with her travel team iEXCEL on a whirlwind tour that would bring college scouts by the hundreds to hone-in on potential recruits.
Zeno and company were in Kentucky in mid-May when she began to experience great fatigue. Then in the second game there, her face broke out in dots. A trip to the hospital assessed the problem as a possible allergic reaction to antibiotics. But that was not it. Then in Indianapolis for the next round things got worse, but Zeno kept playing until the last game when she felt she could not play at all.
A college coach from NYU was there to scout her, one of the schools she was strongly considering. She went into the game but almost immediately needed to be taken out. Her lymph nodes were swollen but rather than go to the hospital in Indianapolis, she asked her parents James and Maria to take her back to NYS to Westchester Medical Center, specifically the Maria Ferrari Children's Hospital.
In the emergency room they took blood, put an IV in and doctors began asking a lot of questions. The next morning she was visited by a child oncologist and though the diagnosis was first given to her parents, Amanda insisted on being told what was going on. The words “Acute Myeloid Leukemia”, were spoken eliciting fear and dismay. Then came the onset of serious procedures including surgery to put a port in her chest and ten days of chemotherapy.
The good news was that the cancer was gone and Amanda was in remission, which she is to this day. But due to a genetic marker that denoted the possible return of the disease, a bone marrow transplant to rid her body of that dire potential was indicated. Twice the procedure didn't take. Finally with her dad as the donor, Amanda came through with blood cleansed of the heinous potential. The procedure was very uncomfortable for James but when it comes to the health of one's children, there are no questions about sacrifice

On the road to recovery
She is now 250-plus days post the transplant and cancer free. But to this day she remains in the hospital as other problems have surfaced and the daily monitoring continues. The Covid-19 situation has been particularly threatening as she has virtually no immunity. It's made her obsessive about sanitizing everything touched by others.
Amanda did come out of the hospital to be present at Fallsburg's Senior Night. Needless to say her teammates, coaches, and the entire community were enthralled to see her. It just wasn't the same without her this past season.

Amanda's aspirations
Amanda never got to finish her AAU season and had already received a letter from Colombia University, the other school high on her list. She never got to play for that scout. In college she had planned on a Pre-Med study but watching the residents and what they have to go through changed her mind.
Instead she now aspires to be a biomedical engineer and hopefully improve much of the equipment that often doesn't work right in the hospital. Emotionally it's been very trying. She has seen other girls post their videos and she feels left out and depressed at times.
Amanda is not one to hide her emotions. Her mother, Maria, more than anyone else has been privy to those trying moments. She has been accepted to Marist which is Division I and hopes she'll be able to make the team as a walk on by her junior year. It's a long, uphill battle but she has remarkable spirit.
Looking back on her high school career there are many moments to reinvigorate that spirit: Her 1000-point career milestone, winning division titles, watching teammate Diamond Weeks break the school scoring record and most resoundingly, scoring 33 points and pulling down 20 rebounds against Class B Player of the Year Brianna Rozzi from Highland.
Zeno had something to prove that night about who is most deserving of that honor. She has received many accolades including Sullivan County Democrat Player of the Year. This year she had her sights set on even greater recognition.

A star is born
Amanda started playing in fourth grade and her skills took a quantum leap in sixth grade with the help of Dustin VanLieu who was schooling her even before he and his brother Ryan formed Gym Ratz. Zeno skipped modified and went straight to becoming the captain of the Junior Varsity team in seventh grade and moved up to varsity in the eighth grade.
A scholar athlete who puts school first, Zeno has been an exemplary player at both ends of the court. A staunch defender, a great ball handler and a deft shooter, she's been a lethal weapon. Naturally, the pressure on her increased as other teams became all too familiar with her lethality. That only made her play harder. Zeno aspires to play on a team with four other women of impressive talent freeing her to evince all the skills she has so diligently worked on to acquire.

Family first but
so much other support
Zeno has drawn strength and inspiration from her remarkable family.
“My mom has been a rock throughout this whole ordeal. Before that she was my biggest fan and at every game,” says Amanda. Only one parent at a time can visit her and it's been Maria most often. She goes home and cooks for Amanda who won't eat hospital food.
“My dad is not only my donor, he's been my videographer and my loudest fan,” she quips. Her older brother Jaidon inspired and challenged her to play one-on-one with him. She picked the number 12 to match the digits he wore in high school.
Her younger brother Athan she mentors, encourages and challenges to keep his grades up to improve his chances of playing football at the next level. Her grandparents, aunts and uncles round out a truly remarkable family. Zeno has been inspired by her coach Daniel Redmond, her teammates, the VanLieus of Gym Ratz and the entire Fallsburg Community.

The comeback kid
How long she will remain in the hospital remains uncertain but Amanda Zeno doesn't feel as if the game is over, not by a long shot. During this long time out she is sizing up the situation, listening to the sage advice offered to her and preparing to re-enter the game of life with renewed vigor and purpose.
Amanda Zeno has authored many remarkable comeback victories but this one will be her most resounding one yet, the one that never fades from memory, the victory over her greatest adversary, the disease that tried to take her out of the game but could not prevail against her inimitable spirit.

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