Iowa Rower Defeats Stage III Cancer

Story by Megan Sprengeler

University of Iowa student-athlete, Alysson Wittmeyer, conquered more than just Big Ten opponents in the last year. The women’s rower defeated stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma late in 2016, making 2017 her year for a full comeback on the water and in the classroom.

by Megan Sprengeler

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Landing on the University of Iowa campus in the fall of 2015, freshman Alysson Wittmeyer was eager to submerge herself into all Iowa had to offer.

Looking forward to a Midwest environment and beautiful campus, as well as the comfort of having a family atmosphere, Wittmeyer knew she had chosen the right place to continue her education and rowing career.

As any first-year student, Wittmeyer encountered bumps along the way, but found ways to bounce back; however, one set back she never saw coming changed her life in the blink of an eye.

After experiencing chest pains, Wittmeyer went to the emergency room where a series of tests were run. Wittmeyer was ultimately diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in November of 2015.

“The fact that I had cancer didn’t really hit me until my first treatment,” Wittmeyer said. “When I actually saw the chemo entering my port and I thought to myself ‘This is it. There is no turning back once the drugs were in my heart.’”

Wittmeyer was able to lean on a group of close-knit people from her immediate family, church family, and of course, her Hawkeye family.

“The coaches and staff were incredible.” Wittmeyer said. “They were so supportive and helped me with the future plans beyond my treatment.”

The Elgin, Illinois native was kept high in spirits during treatment with much credit due to her teammates at the University of Iowa who continually sent letters and gifts, as well as calls and texts with support.

After six months of treatment, the determined young rower set her sights on reclaiming herself and her spot on the Iowa Rowing roster.

Wittmeyer was back doing what she loved most; doubling as a student and an athlete. It would be an understatement to label Wittmeyer as mere “survivor” of cancer, when she is a warrior that has conquered far more than meets the eye.

“When I got back to campus,” Wittmeyer said, “they were very understanding and supportive of my healing and progress. We did a 5K run and I was in dead-last, of course, but when I came to the end of the run, my teammates made a tunnel for me to run through as I finished and that was the most powerful moment of team bonding I have ever had. That memory will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was amazing.”

The road to regain strength and endurance in her sport didn’t come easy for Wittmeyer. In the months following treatment, Wittmeyer faced countless moments of conflict within herself, wanting so badly to be able to compete at the same level as the rest of her teammates, but still feeling the effects of the chemotherapy.

Discouragement lurked around every corner, but Wittmeyer persisted and finally was able to see positive results; she noted one of the most prominent moments was when she could finally braid her hair again.

“When I realized that I had to leave school for treatment, I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to rejoin the team that I loved,” Wittmeyer said. “The University of Iowa was so understanding and accommodating with my unique situation. I was able to rejoin my team after treatment and was welcomed back with open arms. Once you are a part of the Hawkeye family, you are there for a lifetime.”

Now in her third-year at the University of Iowa studying Enterprise Leadership with a minor in History, Wittmeyer has earned her place on the team’s roster.

The 6-foot-2 rower collected her first division-one varsity letter at the conclusion of the 2017 season and is hoping to add another in 2018. The team will open with the PAC-12 Challenge at the end of March.

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