Land O'Lakes runner inspires teammates after brain surgery

10:33 PM, Dec 11, 2012   |    comments
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LAND O' LAKES, Florida -- Steven Barnabei will never forget his November 2nd trip to see his doctor.

"He said, 'Steven, you're having brain surgery today,' and he paused for a second, and I thought the whole world paused, too," Barnabei said. "My mind was going."

Barnabei, a junior cross country runner at Land O'Lakes High School, was in great shape. He could run for miles and had just set a personal record with a time of 17:10 in a mid-October meet, but nagging headaches raised some eyebrows.

His mother took him to the doctor and an MRI revealed Barnabei had a brain tumor over six centimeters long, according to one measurement. 

After his 4-hour surgery was completed, Barnabei's teammates learned how serious the injury was. It was the morning of their biggest meet of the year.

Click here to view photos of Barnabei and his team

Barnabei has watched from the sidelines as his teammates continue to compete without him. He can't lace up his running shoes with them anymore, but he has become an inspiration for the Gators. The teammates say they gain strength from his fighting spirit.

Barnabei begins one-hour radiation treatments this month. The sessions will last for seven weeks. Barnabei, an aspiring marine biologist, will get a high flow of radiation five days a week to help keep the cancer from coming back.

The team decided to honor Barnabei by putting his initials, SJB, on their racing jerseys this fall. Head Coach Kris Keppel said the team will present Steven with the "Gator Determinator" award for pushing through this tough time in his life at season's end.

Barnabei vows to make it back to the team as soon as possible. He hopes to run track in the spring. 

Until then, he says he'll spend the next few weeks working on pulling up his grades after missing over two months of school because of his medical issues.  

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