CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. - Some athletes are just born to play a particular sport.
For Clover Hill senior Emma Larkin, that sport is basketball, and has been from a very young age.
"I love basketball" Emma explained. "I've played since the 2nd grade. It's my favorite sport. I love the game so much."
"I can't live without basketball, it just means a lot to me."
"Emma is just cheek to cheek for me" said Clover Hill girl's coach LaKeisha White. "I absolutely love her energy. She's smart, she's energetic, she's outgoing."
But Emma's outlook on the game wasn't always so positive.
She came home from a tryout for her middle school team in tears - not because she didn't make the team, but because she couldn't even finish the opening practice.
Something was physically wrong with her leg.
"Every time I moved my leg, it was searing pain" Emma recalled. "Kinda like someone was pressing really hard on my thighs."
Emma was originally diagnosed with a pulled muscle. Not anything you wish for, but a common injury that eventually heals.
"We were a bit relieved that something was going to be resolved at that time" said Emma's father, Michael. "She loved playing basketball."
But physical therapy and treatment did not alleviate Emma's pain, so she had surgery. That allowed her to compete in middle school and on AAU teams. But in 9th grade, the pain came back. An MRI revealed not a pulled muscle, but a tumor in her leg. Emma was referred to an oncologist, but the Larkins had to wait two weeks for the appointment.
"I was in Northern Virginia just starting the trip to get back down here" Michael recalled. "It was one of the most difficult drives I've ever had."
"I didn't know we were visiting an oncologist when we first went" Emma added. "My parents obviously knew the gravity of the situation. They were pretty nervous about it."
Emma's tumor was quickly diagnosed as benign, but she did have a hemangioma; an abnormal growth of blood vessels. She underwent a procedure that allowed her to return to the court where she was a team captain for the Lady Cavaliers as both a sophomore and a junior...all while providing inspiration for her coach and teammates.
"I'll say 'Let's go leg!!'" White said. "Even though I know it's something that's really bothering her, but at the same time, it encourages her. The harder she goes, the harder they go."
"She sets an example for the younger girls" Michael added. "There's a responsibility you take on when you take on a leadership role like that."
But all her previous procedures left Emma with scar tissue in her thigh that has caused her pain to return. She needed yet another surgery to remove it and be able to play at least the second half of her senior year.
Before that, her coach set up a scrimmage with Maggie Walker, on which Emma's younger sister plays.
The Larkin girls had never faced off against each other outside of their own driveway, but the teams put together the game for the benefit of a family and a player that has already been through so much.
"I've never gotten to play against her before" Emma said. "We've played on the same team, but never against each other."
"I'm glad she hasn't given up" White said. "There's been plenty of reasons for her to, but all you need is that one reason, and I love that she always finds that one reason to do basketball."
"Despite the significant pain every time she exercises, she's always shown up for practices" Michael added. "She doesn't quit. It's pretty impressive to see her do as much as she possibly can."
"If you really enjoy and believe in something, you'll always get through it."
"There's always a solution."
Two days after the scrimmage, Emma had yet another surgery on her leg. This time, the surgeons were able to remove the mass that has been causing so much trouble. Michael reports Emma is feeling good, and the procedure went well.
They are all hopeful Emma will be back on the court after New Year's.
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