E.A. Sports Today

Making a splash

Donoho eighth-grader overcomes serious leg injury — and a recent setback — to discover a new sport, qualify for state swim meet

Slade Haney (green trunks) has been swimming competitively for only two years but he’ll be competing in four events in next month’s state high school swimming championships. (Photos courtesy of Haney family)

“I’m just thankful that God turned a terrible situation in my life into an amazing outcome, which was the sport of swimming.” — Donoho’s Slade Haney

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

When you’re 13 years old and dream of following your idol into the life of being a football player and some doctor tells you that dream is over before it ever starts, it can be pretty devastating.

Slade Haney admits he had some down and tearful days when they broke him news that contact sports wouldn’t be a part of his future. But his story didn’t end there. He found another sport and over the past two years has been in the fast lane to success.

If fate hadn’t intervened, he might be playing for the Donoho football team – or maybe Piedmont’s – but he developed a nasty cyst in his right leg that doctors said would not allow him to play contact sports again. Heartbroken but determined, he dove headlong into swimming, and it hasn’t been a bad move.


Haney is headed to the state high school swimming championships for the second year in a row and the first in an individual event. The eighth-grader qualified in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly and will swim legs on two relays at the state meet Dec. 1-2 at Auburn.

“It’s all about hard work and desire,” his Anniston YMCA Blue Dolphins and Donoho coach Johnnie Pearson said. “He got a little taste of success (last year) and once he got a little bit he wanted more. He had a little setback about five weeks ago … but he just hammered through and made it happen; he just escalated what he wanted.

“It’s a great story of hope. You don’t have to let something stand in your way. You can push past it.”

Haney wanted to be a football player just like his idol Tim Tebow and played all the popular sports in the youth programs growing up in Piedmont.

Then, one day in 2013 playing baseball he dove for a ball at third base and his sporting life changed forever, although it would be another 18 months before the truth of the situation would be revealed.

He landed awkwardly on his knee that day but continued to play. He later would endure days of pain and eventually was diagnosed as a strained quadriceps and went through physical therapy.

He didn’t think anything about it, but over the next 18 months his parents noticed he had developed a considerable limp. The first doctor they saw thought Slade had a malignant cancerous tumor in the neck of his right femur.

They saw another doctor at Children’s of Birmingham and he told them their son had a 3.5-by-4.35 centimeter noncancerous unicameral cyst that had eaten away at the bone to the point that in another month it likely would have shattered.

He had surgery the next day to clean it up and insert a titanium plate to support the healing. Getting the news of the cyst over cancer was “pure relief for us” Slade said, but then came the toughest news for a young athlete with a dream.

“The doctor told me no running for six months and as long as the plate was in there was going to be no chance you’re going to be in contact sports,” he said. “I was just torn apart. I just dreamed of being a high school football player. When they told me that, a little part of my dream had gone away.”

Fear not, he found a new sport. Part of his rehab included work in the pool. While all this was happening he was just starting at Donoho. One day he asked one of his new classmates if it were too late to tryout for the swim team the Falcons were just starting.

Of course not, he was told. So, with no competitive swimming in his background, he approached Pearson about getting involved and the rest as they say is history.

Slade Haney in a contemplative mood on the pool deck.

Last year Slade made it to state with the Falcons’ 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay teams; the freestyle team finished eighth in the state. This year he’s back in the two relays (with Sean Keel, Camden Kitchen and Marshall Twigg), but also qualified in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly with PRs at last weekend’s sectionals.

In addition to Haney and the Donoho relays, Sacred Heart’s Julian Magadia (200 free), Oxford’s Cade Hilbun (100 free, 100 back) and Weaver’s Lucia Balma (100 free) also will represent Calhoun County at the state meet.

But qualifying for state wasn’t without more drama for Slade. His leg began hurting against in October and an MRI revealed the cyst had returned. Doctors wanted to perform surgery again but the family wasn’t at peace with that and eventually connected with St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

While the doctors in Memphis considered a course of action, he had to be off the leg, which meant crutches for another three weeks at perhaps the most critical window in his training for sectionals. Miraculously, the next CT scan he had showed the bone was healed.

Nobody had to tell him twice. The next day he was in the pool training. He qualified in the 200 free in 2:09.76 and the 100 fly in 1:04.59.

“I was very glad to have swimming,” he said. “As a competitor I don’t like it when things come easy for me and when I started swimming I realized my results were going to be based on how I performed at practice and I just loved that feeling.

“I’m just thankful that God turned a terrible situation in my life into an amazing outcome, which was the sport of swimming.”

Slade is playing baseball again, too. He was Donoho’s starting third baseman and a relief pitcher as a seventh grader last year and because of his “tremendous work ethic and upside” coach Steve Gendron expects him to have a larger role for them in the future.

But Slade knows there will come a time he’ll have to make a choice. It probably won’t be a tough decision.

“The Lord blessed me with such ability in swimming I don’t really see a future in contact sports, other than baseball,” he said. “I’m just hoping to get a college scholarship with swimming.”

He wants to go to Johns Hopkins to be a doctor. Imagine that.

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