Sports

Teenage skier fighting cancer on the slopes

PARK CITY, Utah — Geno Schinderle is a 16-year-old Sophomore from Iron Mountain, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s been an avid skier since he was just two years old and grew up skiing at Pine Mountain, a small ski hill, in his hometown. Schinderle spent every waking moment on the hill during the winter. Then, after a full day of skiing, he would come home and turn the backyard into a terrain park. Schinderle was always the one who had to try everything first, which is probably part of the reason he is so fearless.

In November 2020, he was gearing up to move to Park City to be a part of the Park City Ski and Snowboard Freestyle Team (PCSS). Everything was in place and he was counting down the days until his departure. He was so excited. A week and a half before he was scheduled to leave for Park City he became suddenly ill. He was rushed via ambulance to St. Vincent Children’s Hospital in Green Bay, WI, where we heard the three words no one ever wants to hear…you have cancer. On November 19, 2020, Schinderle was diagnosed with High-Risk T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. His first question was, “Does that mean I can’t go to Park City?”. Unfortunately, his dream of moving to Park City to ski came to a screeching halt. His family’s hearts broke for him.

16-year-old Geno Schinderle, freestyle skier, recovering from cancer before hitting the slopes again.
Geno Schinderle with his family as he recovers from cancer before hitting the slopes again.

Schinderle became critically ill and instead of hitting the slopes in Park City, he spent the next 75-days in the hospital fighting for his life. His leukemia was compounded by multiple life-threatening infections. During this time, he also developed severe Neuropathy in his feet causing bilateral foot drop; one of the many side-effects of his chemotherapy regimen. He was no longer able to walk unassisted and needed a wheelchair to get around. For an active kid who loves to ski, that is a tough pill to swallow.

On February 1, 2021, Schinderle was discharged from the hospital. Following his discharge, he continued his chemo treatments and began physical therapy where he learned to walk again.

In March his family was advised that his best chance at remaining cancer-free was to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Because he didn’t respond to the initial chemo, they somewhat anticipated this would be the case therefore his sister and brother were tested early on to see if they were a match. Thankfully, his older sister was a perfect match. In April, we found out that there was no longer any evidence of disease so they could move forward.

On June 17, 2021, Schinderle was admitted to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee, to begin his conditioning to prepare him for transplant. This entailed total body radiation twice a day for three days and four days of intense chemo. “Not going to lie, it was rough, but he pushed thru,” family members told PCSS. His sister donated her stem cells, all 7.46 million of them, and on July 1, 2021, Schinderle received his new cells.

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He spent 49-days in the hospital, most of which were brutal, but we took it one hour at a time. He was discharged on August 4, and we spent the next two months in Milwaukee until he was stable enough to come home. During this time, Schinderle began working with a highly-skilled physical therapist-athletic trainer, at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, in order to improve his strength, endurance and to regain the use of his foot. He was determined to get back on his skis and his hard work has paid off.

Geno and his brother Dominic. Photo courtesy of the Schinderle Family/Park City Ski and Snowboard

On December 4, 156 days after his bone marrow transplant, Schinderle went skiing again. He felt hugely accomplished. When asked by a family member how he felt, he said, “A little sore, but it is a good sore.” A close family member said to PCSS in a statement, “We haven’t seen him smile that big for over a year…it made our hearts happy.”

Geno was dealt a hand that no one ever expects to receive. He thought his hopes and dreams were shattered but he has proved that thru perseverance you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to. They still travel to Milwaukee for check-ups on a regular basis but Geno hopes to visit Park City sometime this winter for a couple of weeks. He plans to continue working hard and getting stronger so he can participate in the PCSS summer training sessions.

His goal is to be a part of the PCSS team for the 22-23 season.

When family members asked Geno what he learned from his experience. His response was:

  • Don’t take life so seriously.
  • Live life to the fullest.
  • Live like you are never going to see tomorrow because tomorrow isn’t promised.
  • Be thankful and grateful for everything you have because it can be taken away in the blink of an eye.
  • Don’t get mad over little things.

When Geno isn’t fighting cancer or skiing, he enjoys swimming, skateboarding, camping, baking and hanging out with his kitten, Critter.

Geno taking some first steps. Photo courtesy of Sninderle Family/Park City Ski and Snowboard

 

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