IUP’s Conte a fighter on and off the field

Kallie Conte (Photo courtesy of IUP Athletics)
Kallie Conte (Photo courtesy of IUP Athletics)

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“Strength” begins to look like a weak word when describing Kallie Conte (freshman, safety science) of Pittsburgh’s Moon Township.

Conte was named to the All-Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League soccer team at Moon Area high school and is a new addition to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania soccer team.

Kallie Conte (Photo courtesy of IUP Athletics)
Kallie Conte (Photo courtesy of IUP Athletics)

Unlike many incoming players, Conte has tackled more than just tough practices in order to make it onto the team.

In November 2014, Conte was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called lupus nephritis. This illness attacks joints and various organs, but Conte’s particular ailment specifically assaults her kidneys.

“When I found out, I was put on steroids,” Conte said, “but the joint-swelling would get so bad that I couldn’t move my hands, neck, back or shoulders. I just had to lay in bed and do absolutely nothing.”

After a month of not feeling any better, Conte went to the doctors again and was told to wait until March to see if she’d improve. Conte then decided to get a second opinion at the Cleveland Clinic.

Immediately after her biopsy she was hospitalized for a week. She was told that she was about a week away from losing both of her kidneys.

While in the hospital, Conte was given chemotherapy to help fight off the disease. For the next three months, Conte went every two weeks to receive three hours of a chemotherapy IV.

Even now, Conte is on medication to remain healthy.

“I couldn’t have physical contact during chemo,” Conte said, “so I haven’t played soccer since November. It was especially hard to start the season like that.”

Since going into remission March 27, Conte has worked more diligently than the average soccer player in order to be a successful member of the team, according to IUP head coach Adel Heder.

“She is an inspiration to the whole team,” Heder said. “A lot of the girls look up to her.”

Heder noted Conte’s commitment to never miss a second of practice despite being even more strained just to get to practices and games.

“I have about half the amount of energy I used to,” Conte said. “I just have to work harder. It’s been a hard situation, but I’ve tried to make the best of it.”

Conte’s mother, Jill Conte, attested once more to how this experience has changed her daughter both as a student and as a soccer player.

“I think it made her a stronger, more determined player,” her mother said. “After not being able to play for a while, the obstacles to get in shape for the season made her a better player inside and out.”

Conte also had to work harder at school due to the illness. She missed more than nine weeks of school due to the infusions she had every few weeks. Despite the pressure this put on her schoolwork, even this barrier didn’t stand in her way.

“This whole experience has made us realize how quickly things can change,” Jill Conte said. “I think we all appreciate friends and family more now. It taught us to enjoy life everyday. We are so proud of her for how she has handled this situation, and so thankful for all of the support from friends and family. And especially for the Cleveland Clinic.”

Just as her parents are indefinably pleased with her, Conte feels equally lucky to have them in her life as well. Conte said her parents are one of her biggest inspirations because they push her to be everything that she can be.

“They have given me every opportunity,” Conte said, “and I am so grateful for that. I definitely would not be here today without them.”

Conte has played in both of the Crimson Hawks’ games thus far, and IUP secured its first win of the season in a 2-1 overtime effort against Clarion University Sept. 5.

The team will face Mansfield University at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at IUP’s Frank Cignetti Field at George P. Miller Stadium.