Friday, November 14, 2014

Crusader Goalie had overcome serious surgery

from today's Waukesha Freeman -

Catholic Memorial goalkeeper Josh Balicki makes a save during the 2014 season. Balicki came was able to come back from a surgery to remove a tumor in his leg to play for the Crusaders this season. 

Balicki blocks out tumor diagnosis
GK finds second chance in Memorial’s net

Freeman Correspondent

WAUKESHA — Kick the ball, feel the pain.

A few weeks after Josh Balicki had those sensations, it didn’t appear as if the Catholic Memorial High School sophomore would be kicking a soccer ball in the near future.

The sudden pain was discovered during a practice with the Chicago Fire Academy developmental team.

“It seemed as if I had tweaked a hamstring or something, so I went to a physical therapist but he didn’t see much of a problem. It got worse the next two or three weeks and I told my dad, “The pain is killing me when I kick the ball,” Balicki said.

The goalie finally went to a doctor for X-rays, and a golf-ball-sized tumor on his left femur was discovered.

“It was definitely a shock. I wasn’t prepared for that news,” Balicki said. “But I told myself things happen
 for a reason. I had taken for granted simple things like walking and kicking a soccer ball, but there would be a greater benefit from this.”

He had surgery to remove the osteochondroma tumor, which was non-cancerous, April 11.

“The doctor told me this was serious and could be life-changing, but he also said that when one door closes, another one opens,” Balicki said.

Balicki was told to not put weight on his left leg for a minimum of six weeks — but more likely two months.

But he immediately — three days after surgery — launched himself into rehab: crunches and elevated one-legged pushups.

“Overcoming adversity is maintaining a positive attitude,”
 he said. He finally began walking again — slowly — and began work on his range of motion.

“Slowly jogging was then my next goal,” he said.

But playing for the Chicago Fire Academy team he had tried out for and made a year before wasn’t a real option.

However, playing for Memorial was.

“He beat all the odds and was cleared to play the second week of July,” Balicki’s father, Jon, said. “He worked his tail off and beat the odds.”

“I talked with the Fire Academy coaches and we agreed to not rush anything,” Josh Balicki said. “They wanted me to get in a number of games to get ready for the next season in February.”

Memorial coach John Bisswurm, meanwhile, was contemplating converting a defender into a goalkeeper for the Crusaders’ season.

“We had lost a senior goalkeeper and weren’t sure where to turn,” Bisswurm
 said. But then Balicki showed up at practice.

And he isn’t just an average goalie.

“He’s recognized as one of the better players in his age group,” Bisswurm said. “The Academy doesn’t make its decisions on who to take lightly, and Josh is a good athlete who’s got all the intangibles. He’s constantly working on his craft and has the potential to be one of the elite. He’s a special player.

“It meant a lot to us to have him. He brought us a lot of experience from the Academy. We were a young team with nine freshmen and sophomores, so having him there to solidify our back line was huge.

“As the season went on, you could see his play get better and better. Because of his medical situation he had to work his way back physically, but you
 could see his confidence level and play improve.”

And playing for Memorial had an added bonus.

“Playing for them was definitely an honor, and it carried on a family tradition, too,” Balicki said. “My father and brother, Joel, played for Memorial, and I was happy that I could help the team have another successful season.”

The Crusaders finished 12-6-3 overall and lost 4-3 in a sectional semifinal to eventual WIAA Division 3 state champion Delavan-Darien.

Jon Balicki played for Bisswurm on Memorial’s first soccer team in 1980, and Joel was on Memorial’s state-championship team in 2010.

It was Joel who really got Josh going in the sport.

“He needed someone to shoot on,” Josh said. “I really love the sport — it’s the world sport, the beautiful game, so who wouldn’t love to play it, especially as goalkeeper? It’s the last line of defense and it’s a lot of pressure, but it’s something I enjoy.”

His playing future is somewhat uncertain — Memorial or the Fire Academy — but his goals are not.

“I want to be part of a Division 1 (college) program, and hopefully I can get to the professional level after that,” he said. “I was very blessed the tumor wasn’t cancerous and the rehab process was valuable in rebuilding my foundation mentally and physically. I’m at the stage now where I can perform even better than before.”

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