Land 'O Lakes, Florida -- Steven Barnabei admitted he still doesn't like the feeling of sore joints. There have been plenty of those since the senior-to-be rejoined the Land O'Lakes cross country team after months away from his teammates.
But, at least he's able to run again.
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Barnabei will gladly trade sore ankles and knees for what could have been. He needed surgery last fall to remove a brain tumor. He went through numerous sessions of radiation and had two recent MRIs. Both showed no signs of his cancer returning.
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Now, he's back to doing what he loves to do: running.
"Steven is an inspiration to all of us," said Gators track and cross country coach Kris Keppel. "People look up to him."
"It wasn't easy," said Barnabei, who felt ill for a while after resuming his running regiments.
Before doctors found his tumor, Barnabei was running at a sub-five minute mile pace. He hasn't broken that time since he got back on the trails, but is confident he will in time.
"He is as strong as ever. If anything, it's made him stronger," said friend and teammate, Aaron Ferrante. "He's such a good person and such a strong person. He can get through anything. He's a man of steel."
The hair on the left side of Steven's head is slowly coming back. The thick scar from his surgery is still in plain sight. He said he looks at it in the mirror at home sometimes. It reminds him of what he's overcome.
"I feel like even though I was injured and I was taken out of running for a long time, and my times have slowed down since then, I feel like it's a big step for me and also for everyone else," he said after completing a 10-mile run at Morris Bridge Park in Tampa. "It's a good sign [for others] to see someone else who is having trouble but gets back into running. Then, they can do it, too."
His teammates are glad to have the "backbone" of their team back leading the pack.
Click here to view photos of Barnabei and his team
"I don't think I can beat him," said Ferrante. "Anytime I try to keep up with him he's always ahead but it gives me the motivation and strength looking at him, to see what he's been through, it helps get me through the day."
Steven's medical bills are still a huge obstacle for him and his family to overcome. A trust has been set up to help take care of those bills. If you would like to help financially, you can email Kris Keppel at email@example.com, Mary Anne Barnabei at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (813) 997-9232.