When Kendall Krick was in the second grade, it started to become a bit clearer that something wasn’t right. She was slated to begin the youth basketball season under head coach Jim Krick, her father. They had a hoop in their driveway, like most families, one that could be lowered to cater to the size of a seven-year-old or raised to the professional height of 10-feet.
Kendall – now a rotational guard on the women’s basketball team — couldn’t make a shot at any height. She was able to in first grade. It had only been a year, so it’s not like the layoff had been so intensive. What happened?
Well, at the time, she just assumed her first-grade skill level was the pinnacle of what she would reach. She was crushed. She told her father that she just wasn’t good at basketball anymore. So she tried soccer. She couldn’t run. As her mother, Sylvia, told the Poughkeepsie Journal last year, she’d fall 40 to 50 times a game. She’d take a turn or go to kick the ball and immediately tumble to the ground.
Kendall wasn’t at the peak of her powers as an athlete; she was just literally walking on pins and needles. The string of physical issues led her parents to take her to the doctor, where Kendall would find out that she suffered from dermatomyositis. She mentioned that it was difficult for her to understand as a kid. Perhaps not as difficult as it was to pronounce.
“I was very weak, I was falling to the ground a lot,” she explained, recalling what the disease does to a body. The pronunciation is easier now, so no worries on that front. “I had red rashes on my eyelids, my knees, my knuckles. Just overall, I didn’t look healthy.”
The difficult-to-pronounce-disease is a rare inflammatory disease marked by a distinctive skin rash, muscle weakness, and inflamed muscles. It’s one of only three known inflammatory myopathies, and it effects 9.63 people out of every million.
“It’s a lot,” she says.
Upon her initial diagnosis, Kendall was put on steroids, injections of methotrexate – “which is a chemotherapy drug… a smaller version of that, but the same in essence” – and folic acid, a vitamin that helped to combat the side effects of the other two drugs. Her dad would give her weekly injections of the main drugs, and she’d get her blood drawn frequently. “Obviously, shots are not fun,” she said, shrugging. If she had to – which for a long time, she did – she would take the injections over the steroids, which she hasn’t been taking since middle school. Those made her miserably nauseous, even if they did help. “I couldn’t stand them.”
At least for now, she doesn’t have to stand any of it. She got to the point, after consistently positive blood results, where she could wane off of medication entirely. “It’s been awesome,” she said. For the first time since, “well, second grade,” she’s healthy enough to try a stretch without injections. She tried once freshman year of high school “and it didn’t go well,” so she still feels a bit of nerves wondering whether or not a relapse is imminent. For now, though, she feels great. “I couldn’t be happier about it.” She, of course, still harbors that fear; what if it comes back? What if I’m not strong enough?
Scratch that. Remove it from the record.
She knows she’s strong enough – “I believe God gives his toughest battles to his strongest fighters,” she says. “God gave me this to overcome.” The temperament she maintains and employs, as well as the resilience it takes to stick with athletics as a disease plagues your every move is recognized, but not a defining characteristic. It isn’t even a characteristic. It’s just part of her life. It’s a part of her life that her coach, Brian Giorgis, didn’t even know about when he recruited Kendall in 2018.
“No, not at all,” he says of there ever being a doubt in her abilities as he scouted her. “In fact, I didn’t even know… [once I did] I didn’t have a problem with it at all. She took her medicine, and everything was fine.”
For Kendall, it wasn’t so easy. Regardless of her faith in the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality, it was hard not to worry. “Having a disease that hinders you physically definitely put doubt in my mind,” she said. If it put doubt in her mind at age eight, who’s to say that doubt wouldn’t manifest even greater at age 18? Combatting it wasn’t necessarily simple, but the reason to stick with it most certainly is. She just really loves sports. No question about that.
Doubts about her support system have always been invisible, too. On top of her parents, Sarah Barcello, the team’s starting shooting guard and Kendall’s best friend since they were little, has been by her side from the very beginning. “Growing up, I would be over when would get her shots,” Barcello said. “This is cheesy, but I would hold her hand.” While Barcello stood on the sideline for the interview, Krick stood a few feet behind running a quasi-Mikan drill by herself. She smiled a bit, interrupting her layup as Barcello remembered their childhood; it didn’t matter that the memory involved a needle.
When they arrived on campus, Kendall was still receiving regular injections, so her father taught Sarah how to give her the shot. She’d do that every week, holding her hand. Her sister’s hand, Sarah says. It’s not something just any friend does, stick a needle in their friend’s arm so that they can live comfortably. But as Sarah said, “I love her, and I’ve known her forever. I enjoy when I helped her, and still helping her.”
It’d be hard to find someone who wouldn’t enjoy helping Kendall – again, save the needles and steroids. She’s an efficient teammate and player, shooting 43 percent this season albeit in only seven-minutes per game, but she perfectly blends the line between good teammate and better friend. Barcello mentioned that they were joined at the hip growing up and have somewhat remained that way; Giorgis called her one of the most “incredible, wonderful, mature players” he’s ever been around. “I could probably come up with 100 superlatives, but I don’t have that kind of vocabulary. She’s as good as I’ve ever seen.”
In their own way, the women’s basketball team has a hallmark of resilience at its core. Whether it lies with Hannah Hand and her comeback or Grace Vander Weide’s self-desribed “rock bottom” and rebirth, doesn’t matter. Kendall doesn’t even think about it. Giorgis doesn’t either. “Nobody has ever seen her situation in action per se,” he says. “I don’t think she thinks about it… we don’t think about it… She’s been Kendall since we’ve known her.”
She stays Kendall all throughout her interview, which is a treat. She’s Kendall throughout Barcello’s, too. During her best friend’s interview, Kendall was working on her layups. After her own, she returns to the court to work on her form shooting. Practice is long over now. So maybe she’s putting in extra prep for Sunday’s game against Green Bay. Or maybe she’s just taking advantage of what she sometimes couldn’t when she was in second grade. Just one more shot.
Edited by Craig Conway