Young Gymnast Tumbles on One Leg After Overcoming Cancer

PHOTO: College senior Adam Starr attempts a one-legged flip after losing his leg to cancer.
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Adam Starr stepped into the Northfield Gymnastics Club last week; it had been two years since he last tumbled.

Gymnastics skills aren't like riding a bike.

Any gymnast would be rusty after two years of no physical preparation. It takes enhanced muscle memory, daily practice and sheer mental strength to convince the mind to tumble.

It takes courage for any gymnast to jump into the air and flip the human body backward in unnatural ways, fully knowing the danger that waits on the ground if one small mistake is made.

But Starr's situation was different. This time he was attempting his first gymnastics trick with only his left leg.

Starr started gymnastics at the age of 3 and continued practicing as a teenager. His mother, Leslie Starr, said he was always a "monkey" climbing around their home. His father, Garrett Starr, said that his son was always an acrobat.

"When he was little, he used to climb all the way to the top of our street sign and wave good bye to our guests as they left," he said.

The 21-year-old senior at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. lost his leg to cancer in 2009. Being a lifelong gymnast, captain of his high school track team and an All-American diver, losing one a leg was devastating.

"It was depressing. I had a couple friends that I really enjoyed doing acrobatics with, and I wasn't able to dive anymore. It was tough to realize I wasn't able to do those things anymore and that I probably wouldn't be able to ever again," Starr said.

Starr was born with a rare condition called Lymphedema, which causes swelling in limbs. In this case, Starr always had swelling issues with his leg that would come and go, but he was still able to compete in athletics.

During his freshman year, Starr went to the doctor for swelling and a bruise on his foot that would not go away. The doctor called him on Valentine's Day in his college dorm room and told him he had a form of low-grade cancer, but it still required amputation of his leg.

"At that point, I wasn't able to do the diving and gymnastics that I was able to do before because I was so swollen. I had faced the fact that I wasn't able to do athletics about six months earlier," Starr said. "I went through the period of grieving about four to six months before the amputation but it was choosing the pathway to survival rather than choosing a much darker road."

Starr Family Devastated by Aggressive Cancer News

The doctor gave Starr two choices for his surgery, either to have his below the knee amputation in just one month over spring break or to wait until his summer break. Starr chose to go ahead and have his surgery over spring break. A decision his parents agreed with, but were worried for their son.

"I thought of the other students at St. Olaf and how he spent his freshman year spring break in the hospital rather than what most freshmen would have been doing," Garrett Starr said. "He's just always had the attitude of get done what needs to be done and deal with it later."

Once the doctors did the surgery, they found that Starr actually had a very aggressive and rapidly growing cancer that had spread?a stage four angiosarcoma, which has a very high mortality rate.

"Had I picked summer break, I probably wouldn't be here," Starr said.

His mother said they were shocked by the news, but her multi-talented son, who is also a guitarist, kept them grounded after the devastating diagnosis.

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