The fact that Holden’s Lauren Politz won Outstanding Lifter in the heavyweight division at the recent East Regional and at Friday's state powerlifting meet is a pretty big deal.
After all, it’s Holden’s first season competing in the sport, but there’s more to it than that.
The fact that Politz is even participating in the first place is a feat in itself. Every honor she and her teammates have picked up, including a state runner-up finish in Division V at the state meet in Alexandria, has come as Politz has battled thyroid cancer.
“Some people are made of something different,” Holden powerlifting coach David White said. “I think she is. To have that toughness to where I’ve never seen it affect her, and then to continually improve. It would be easy to say these are the cards I’ve been dealt (and) it’s a crappy card. She could have felt sorry for herself. It could have gotten worse. She could have packed it in and said I’m just going to wallow. She’s gotten better.”
Politz’s recent journey began unsuspectingly enough, starting as an after-effect of an auto accident she was involved in earlier this school year with a few of her classmates.
She hit her head, leaving her with headaches, and a CT scan taken during treatment of those headaches detected a nodule on her thyroid. Her primary care doctor sent her to another doctor to get an ultrasound, who in turn sent her to get a biopsy of the nodule to determine if it was cancerous.
Throughout the process, Politz wasn’t concerned because her doctors told her the nodules weren’t uncommon.
“I kept telling my mom … this is all just a waste of my time,” she said. “They’re all super-common. People get them all the time. I don’t need to be doing this.”
Politz said her mom, Misty Oliphant, knew better.
“My mom being a mom was like, ‘No. We need to take care of this.’ I’m glad I have a mom that was pushing the situation and ignoring the fact that I kept saying it’s nothing,” Politz said.
The result of the biopsy showed malignant cancer, and Politz realizes now that maybe the auto accident was a blessing in disguise.
“So many people have told me that car accident was not an accident,” Politz said. “That was all part of God’s plan. If it wasn’t for that accident, it could have been so much worse. We were very blessed to catch it when we did all because of that car accident, and nobody was even hurt during the car accident, so that makes it that much better.”
Dealing with the diagnosis
The diagnosis caught Politz, who is a 17-year-old junior and cheerleader at Holden, off guard in more ways than one.
“That was kind of like a big deal to us, because we were told that we were facing cancer, and that’s not something I was expecting at all,” Politz said.
“The way I looked at it was like it wasn’t ‘real’ cancer, even though it was a completely real cancer,” she said. “I didn’t really think it was that big of deal until the doctor told me they’re going to have to remove my whole thyroid.”
Politz said she got a bit of a boost in regard to her diagnosis when her doctor said his wife had gone through a similar experience.
“He said his wife had to have this surgery, and the only thing that it changes is you have to take a pill every day for the rest of your life, and if I have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life rather than going through what a lot of people go through having to deal with cancer, that’s a very small trade-off, and I will gladly take that,” Politz said.
Breaking the news
Before her diagnosis, Politz got a call from her doctor wanting her to come in on Dec. 27, a day which she planned to go out of town on a shopping trip. When she told the doctor she was going out of town, they requested she come in immediately.
There was one problem – the Holden powerlifting team had practice that day, and that was the only thing on Politz’s mind.
Still, she went to the appointment where she was diagnosed with cancer and did what anyone in her position would do – or maybe not. She left the appointment, and had her mom drop her off at practice.
White said Politz arrived about 15 minutes late, but he didn’t question it. He had recommended his team take part in an optional meet to give team members in the first-year program some early experience, and asked Politz if she would be participating in the meet. Of course, she said it wasn’t likely.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I have cancer’, and then I just started lifting,” Politz said. “And he was like, ‘you have cancer?’, so we laughed about it …”
White admits he was shocked by Politz’s actions that day, but not in a bad way.
“I was like, ‘You could have taken the day off.’ (She said) ‘I didn’t really want to.’ And she proceeded to just lift, and has never let it affect her,” he said. “I know that it has, but she’s in there lifting. I’ve never seen it affect her. She’s gotten stronger from it. She’s tough, man. She’s tough.”
When asked about certain time frames in relation to her journey with cancer, Politz spouts of dates and numbers without hesitation with maybe the biggest one to date being Jan. 8 – the date of her surgery.
During the procedure, doctors removed her thyroid, which had a nodule was about the size of a 50-cent coin. They also found 19 lymph nodes with cancer but were only able to remove 14 of them because of their location.
Politz stayed in the hospital for two nights after surgery, but getting back to powerlifting was never far from her mind.
“It’s just something that’s been there for me to fall back on,” she said. “I don’t sit around and mope over the fact that I have cancer. It’s like I got out of the hospital and I have something that I’m waiting to work on.”
Politz returned to practice Jan. 17 to begin preparing for a meet 10 days later at St. Thomas Aquinas, and after going through her paces, said she felt better than expected.
“I was expecting to be extremely sore after this practice, and I was expecting to not lift much at all, which I really didn’t,” Politz said. “I took it easy that day just because I didn’t want to overdo anything. If I was going to lift in this meet, I wanted to make sure that I worked my way into getting back where I need to be rather than overdoing it the first practice that I come back …
“I was not sore at all after practice, which I was super surprised about,” she said. “Everything felt completely normal.”
Politz officially returned to competition at the St. Thomas Aquinas meet, and did so in surprising fashion, even by her standards.
At a practice meet on Dec. 15, just before her diagnosis, Politz had a bench press of 115 pounds, a deadlift of 275 and 215-pound squat. At the STA meet, she stayed put at 115 pounds on the bench press, but bettered her marks in the deadlift (280) and the squat (225) while dealing with severe back pain – and with a bandage on her neck as an reminder of her surgery.
“I was in so much pain until I got in front of everybody,” Politz said. “It’s so weird. It’s like it covers up the pain once I get in front of everyone and the adrenaline starts going. It’s like nothing really stops me once the adrenaline starts going.”
White said the improvement caught him a bit off guard, but it wasn’t a complete surprise given Politz’s work ethic.
“When she came back, she was back,” White said. “The funny thing is, she was good, and then that happened and it’s kind of like she’s taken it to the next level.
“I think kids get a lot of flack, but I think that’s an example of kids are tough,” White continued. “They are. I don’t know how most people would handle that, but I know she’s handled it probably as good as anybody could.”
Politz chalked up her post-surgery improvement to pushing herself in practice, which has carried over to meets.
“In practices, I focus very hard on constantly getting quality and not quantity,” Politz said. “I make sure that I’m always doing the right depth and the right form and listening to commands rather than focusing on the number that I’m doing, because it doesn’t matter what the number is if you don’t do it right.
“I feel like I can always go further … so, I’m constantly pushing myself, and that’s why the numbers are all of a sudden just shooting up,” Politz said.
A happy accident
With the STA meet behind her, Politz turned her attention to the regional meet, where she turned in an MVP performance that was slightly unplanned.
She finished with a total of 730 pounds lifted in the 165-pound weight class, including an increase to 130 pounds in the bench press. But it’s the deadlift weight that’s caused for a bit of laughter from Politz and White now, but it didn’t at the time of the meet.
Politz’s opening weight on the event was 285 pounds, which was well over the 235 pounds, that was supposed to be her starting weight.
“I hadn’t even warmed up with that much before the meet,” Politz said.
White shouldered the blame, calling it a mistake on his part. The tough part, he said, was telling Politz about the mistake, albeit with a silver lining.
“By the time I realized I screwed up, it was too late, and (we) couldn’t change it,” White said. “I went and told her, and I said … ‘if you hit this weight, it’s probably over with – you’ve got this thing locked up.’”
The end result – Politz made the lift, helping her secure the title. She finished with a career-best lift of 310 pounds in the deadlift.
“I went up there and did it, but it was just scary at first because … I haven’t been faced with this before,” Politz said. “Whenever I lifted it, he (White) was like, ‘You really dug me out of that hole. Good job.’”
White was more than thankful for Politz’s effort.
“You talk about bailing me out,” White said. “If she loses the regional championship and she doesn’t get to go to state because I’m a moron, I’m going to cry.”
Still fighting the fight
Politz recently took an iodine pill to see what cancer was remaining in her lymph nodes and went through radiation treatments in an effort to rid her body of that cancer. The treatment required her to be isolated from people for three to four days because of the radiation being emitted from her body during the process.
“It was a lot more intense than I was expecting,” Politz said of the treatment, which caused her to be nauseated and extremely tired.
Once she started taking Synthroid, a drug used to treat thyroid cancer and hypothyroidism, things started getting better.
“Now that I’m on that medicine, my body has changed so much for the better,” she said. “I’m not feeling as tired or exhausted all the time. I feel back to normal now.”
The treatments have also done their job.
“The doctors told me that everything is pretty much out of the way,” Politz said. “All the cancer is pretty much gone. The radiation knocked everything out just with this first round, so after this, I’m done and everything basically is put behind me.”
With that behind her, Politz looked forward to competing in the state meet.
“Now that I finally feel normal again, I’m really hoping that I can push past my limits and really shock myself more than I’ve done before,” she said.
Politz will have check-ups every four months for the next two years to monitor things, and she’s staying positive for as long as the process continues.
“I haven’t been very worried throughout this situation at all because I do trust that everything happens for a reason, and I’m going to move past this,” Politz said. “That’s why I do call it a bump in the road, because I do believe that everything happens for a reason. I’m just going to move past this. It’s all going to be over with soon.”
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