Brock Netter, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — Every student-athlete, at some point, has a moment in life where they begin to see who they are and truly accept themselves.
For Southeastern sophomore Alexis Bailes, that moment came just last year. But the road it took to get there began with a tough start, being paved at just three months old.
“Being that little, I had no idea what was going on,” Alexis said. “But in a way, I’m thankful that it happened when I was little because I don’t think I could go through it had I been older and having to adapt to a new lifestyle. It’s just who I am now.”
At three months old, doctors found a black spot inside of Alexis’ left eye and she was immediately rushed to the hospital to get an MRI taken. That day changed her life forever as she was diagnosed with retinoblastoma — a rare form of eye cancer that affects the retina, located in the back of the eye.
According to the American Cancer Society, retinoblastoma is the most common form of eye cancer despite how rare it is. It affects just 200 to 300 children per year in the United States, and typically a diagnosis doesn’t happen until a child is two years old.
Alexis underwent a procedure to have the eye removed while having her right eye checked to make sure the cancer didn’t spread.
Thankfully it didn’t and, although she waited a long time to hear those magic words, it was worth it.
“I was eight years old when the doctors told me I was cancer free,” Alexis said. “It was a long process, but that allowed me to move on. Doctors told me there was a 99.9 percent chance it would never come back and it hasn’t. So I’m grateful and thankful for that.”
With that chapter closed, it was time to continue her life as a normal eight-year-old, which was easier said than done with a glass eye.
Growing up, Alexis was the subject of many jokes.
However, as she continued to grow and her classmates continued to understand her story, they gained a new respect for her.
And, once she started playing sports, she transformed from a girl with a glass eye to a rockstar.
“Everything went from being weird to, all of the sudden, everyone thinking it’s pretty cool,” Alexis said. “Playing sports was and still is challenging, but just to be able to do everything every other kid does, it was really eye-opening and I fully embraced it. I have one eye and it’s pretty awesome.”
Simply playing sports is one thing. But having that inner confidence while playing is something completely different. It was something she struggled with, but that all washed away during this past volleyball season as she had a hand in helping the Panthers reach a Division III district final for the fourth straight time.
She finished the season with 97 kills, 37 digs and 10 blocks as a hitter. However, it was a Division III sectional final against Alexander where she really came into her own.
“[Former Southeastern] Coach [Jimmy Hutton] moved me to the outside and that’s where I started to bloom,” Alexis said. “I got that confidence and I’ve carried it with me ever since. It wasn’t about me being the best on the team. It was about giving my teammates my best and being a part of the team. And that’s why I love sports … the team.”
Fast forward to the midst of a 18-4 basketball season and Alexis is a fixture in SE’s starting lineup. While every sport has its obstacles — and for Alexis, that’s amplified — one thing she never shorts the game on is the energy she brings on a nightly basis.
“She works as hard as any kid we have on the team,” Southeastern coach Doug Hice said. “I remember back in June during summer practices and scrimmages, I told my coaches that she is going to push someone for a starting spot. That’s the type of work she puts in and the effort she gives on a nightly basis. She’s an incredible kid and we’re glad to have her.
“She represents everything that is good about Southeastern. Straight-A student, never been in trouble and she’s respectful to everyone. She has such a high character and she’s a special person.”
Working hard was instilled in Alexis by her mother at an early age. She gave her daughter a piece of advice that she’s never forgotten.
“She told me I didn’t have a disability. I just needed to work harder,” Alexis said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without her and her telling me that. She’s raised me to not be self-conscious about who I am, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.”
It’s that demeanor and mindset that drives Alexis to be her best every single day. Her teammates look up to her for it while she provides leadership without even knowing it at times.
She still has two years left as a Panther, and considering the impact she’s already made on the court, the best is yet to come.
But for her, it’s not about individually being the best, it’s just about being a good teammate.
“There’s nothing better than being part of a team,” she said. “It’s helped me personally grow and learn how to get past different challenges along the way. But to do it with my friends and family who support me, it’s amazing.”