Puyallup: Sports

Rachel Stowell’s fight with rheumatoid arthritis becomes inspirational

The world is full of inspiration; sometimes it’s hard to make out what is and what isn’t. A story written months ago about Rachel Stowell dealing with rheumatoid arthritis has become one of inspiration.

Like I told Rachel’s father, Brendan, many times since that story has been posted and published, it was Rachel’s story, not mine. I just provided the vehicle for it to be told.

Since that story’s publication, Stowell has had quite the experience at Sumner High as she finished her senior year. No longer is she just one of the girls of the Spartan class of 2015 — she now embodies more to a school and community she might not have thought before.

Or maybe she understood her role the whole time.

“To this day, Rachel experiences young ladies walking up to her and telling her how much of an inspiration she is,” Brendan said in an email.

The story of Stowell overcoming a lifetime of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and now rheumatoid arthritis, transcended the small town of Sumner and caught the attention of Pierce County at large.

At the Tacoma Athletic Commission’s Salute to Sports spring banquet last week, Stowell was honored as the Tom Names female inspirational award. She will receive a $5,000 college scholarship she’ll be able to use toward her education at Dominican U. in San Francisco.

Let’s go back to the email Brendan sent me months ago.

About the beginning of the track season, I was informed that Stowell had relapsed and was diagnosed with full RA. This news usually devastates young athletes.

But not Stowell, who went out and set a new Sumner record in the girls triple jump with a distance of 34 feet, 10 1/2 inches.

“I just missed a fraction of an inch in making it to state,” Stowell said at the Class 3A state track and field championships. “I’m happy to be able to make it here with my (relay) team.”

And the relay team — particularly the 4x400-meter — was happy she made it there.

During the third leg of that 4x400 relay, Stowell burst into a sprint that propelled her toward the leaders of the race. It seemed as if that drive — stubborn as it may be — propelled her to put her team near the front of the pack.

Senior Alyssa Murray might understand Stowell as well as anybody. After playing together for years on the soccer pitch, teammates and friends just create a bond like no other aspect in life.

When Stowell handed off the baton to Murray, it was her time to take what was given and compete the final 400 meters.

“It’s just the competition of wanting to get there,” Murray said.

Sumner ended up finishing in third, setting a personal record. It was a great finish to the race.

As Murray crossed the finish line, Stowell sat there on the ground, legs stretched out. Anybody could see her knees hurt.

But it was picture time — a time to eternalize the moment.

The first reaction Sumner’s relay team had was from freshman Emma Sjolund, who sat down next to Stowell, knowing her knees were done. All the pain she endured was to get to that moment.

“My knees hurt — do I have to stand?” Stowell asked her team.

This was the last time these girls were to be photographed together as a team, so, yes, Stowell had to stand. And as her words were spoken, her five teammates reached out and helped her up, one last time.

It was an incredible finish to this Spartan’s career.