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'BEST THING EVER' | Kenowa Hills senior makes lacrosse return after cancer battle

Jestin Schulte was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer, in early 2021. Since then, he's going through a grueling recovery plan to get back on the field.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Kenowa Hills lacrosse team found itself trailing 9-8 to Northview late in the contest Thursday. With just a few minutes left to go, a substitution was made and for just a moment you could feel all eyes in the stadium shift toward one young man.

"Alright! Let's go Jestin," a voice echoed out from the crowd.

The fan was cheering for Jestin Schulte, a senior on the team who had to give everything he had in him simply to be on the field this season. The last year has been grueling for him. Coach Randy Barber remembers when it all started in early 2021.

"He said he had an appointment for some nagging pain in his knee, and then I got a call from him that it was actually a osteosarcoma. He had some cancer in a bone in his leg," Barber said.

"I was just shocked. They don't put a book together as a coach to tell you what to do in these situations, and you just you felt for him you felt for the family."

Schulte described that as a rough day. His teammates were shocked as well.

"I was kind of dumbfounded. I was shocked. There's no way a kid my age can go through something like that. And I was very sad for Jestin," said Zack Bozek.

Austin French says honoring Schulte after his diagnosis was part of the reason he joined the team.

"I've grown up with Jestin. He's been my best friend for a long time since like third grade. It was just crazy to think of all people, why him?" French said.

The weeks and months after the diagnosis weren't any easier.

"Especially during the chemo treatments. Those those are not fun. I wouldn't wish it upon anyone," Schulte said.

He had surgery from the top of his leg down and he had to have his femur replaced.

"I was on crutches for about six months after my surgery and couldn't put any weight on it for at least three months. I had physical therapy two times a week and I do stuff at home to help me recover. I'm still doing physical therapy, like in a pool," he said.

RELATED: Jenison lacrosse team wears t-shirts to support Kenowa Hills player battling cancer

While all of this was going on, Schulte's teammates were looking for ways to support him. They decided that no one was to wear Schulte's number 21 jersey. Barber says they also came up with a t-shirt fundraiser to support Schulte's family.

"We got calls from Jenison. We got calls from the other side of the state saying 'Hey, how do we buy shirts? How can we support?' And it just made all the difference in the world. I think seeing that just gives you a warm spot in your heart for people really coming together," Barber said.

By the 2022 season, Schulte had made enough progress to rejoin the team. It was a feeling he called "the best thing in the world."

"I just met with a surgeon again yesterday and he said it's all fully repaired. I'm about four to six weeks away from getting a plate taken out of my bone if I ever wanted," Schulte said.

He still moves across the field with a noticeable limp. But Schulte has seen some action this season and has even scored a goal for the Knights.

"The kid impresses me. Every day I'm astonished by his determination to get back. It truly makes me proud," Barber said.

Kenowa's next home game will be against Jenison on Tuesday, May 3. Last season while Schulte was recovering, the Wildcats bought and wore his shirt during warm-ups in a show of sportsmanship.

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