Horne Perseveres Through Battle With MS

Sentinel-Tribune story of June 12.

June 12, 2007

By BARTT DAVIS, Sentinel Sports Writer - Carin Horne's basketball career at Bowling Green was simply amazing.

The Lima native is the 12th-leading scorer in the history of the Falcon women's basketball program and helped the team to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including a run to the Sweet 16 this season.

But numbers, wins, and even the Mid-American Conference tournament most valuable player award Horne earned this season, don't begin to tell the full story.

Horne played at least the final three years of her Falcon career while dealing with multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease that causes Horne to temporarily lose feeling in some of her extremities.

Yet, to say the disease bothered her, isn't completely correct. The truth is, she didn't let it hinder her and told very few people until revealing her secret after the end of this season.

"I felt it was time to be public with it," said Horne. "All the accomplishments we had as a team, I felt like I owed it to my team and my coaches and the public to let them know I have suffered with the disease and to let them know the support they gave me meant a lot to me. Maybe me talking about it now can help people in the future." Horne was an impact player.

On a team where Ali Mann was the leader, Kate Achter was the floor general and Liz Honegger was the physical presence, Horne did a little of everything.

She could shoot, drive, pass and play defense well, and sometimes did it with little or no feeling in her hands, arms and legs.

"It's a testament to her will," said Falcon coach Curt Miller. "She was the MAC tournament MVP and quite frankly deserved it her junior year, and doing it with numerous practice days and numerous games when she was under the weather."


A shocking diagnosis
The summer prior to her sophomore season Horne began noticing some of the symptoms of MS, only she had no idea what the disease was or that she had it.

During preseason workouts, Horne felt numbness and pain in her arms.

"I originally thought it was from being out of shape or working too hard or something," Horne said. "I was sweating a lot and I was fatigued a lot and my aunt thought it might be something more. I kept pushing it off and didn't think anything of it."

It was vintage Horne, mind over matter.

"We were running on the track and all of a sudden my arm just went numb and I had a lot of pain in the upper right part of my body. I couldn't run any more," Horne said. "At that time, I thought I'd better look into it."

Horne's family doctor sent her to a specialist. Tests confirmed she had a disease about which she had no prior knowledge.

"They just kind of told me the basics, what was wrong and how my body works," Horne said. "Even today, I'm in denial about it. It's not something I really talk about. I just feel like I'm not going to let anything hold me back."

Her coach's knowledge of the disease was equally as sketchy.

Miller started a notebook that he still keeps in his office, gathering information about the disease from different Internet sites.

"The coaching staff and the whole team went through a range of emotions," Miller said. "It was disbelief that a person that athletically talented and healthy could have a debilitating disease."

"We knew something was wrong with her," said Honegger. "We didn't know what it was for a while. It was never something she really talked about."

Double whammy
Even more odd than Horne's diagnosis was that it came at nearly the same time that classmate Julie Gompers began feeling the effects of a disease that ended her career.

Gompers began suffering from eosinophilic fasciitis, a rare disease that caused her skin to become inflamed and swollen and eventually harden.

"In a class of six, we have two people with serious illnesses already," Miller said.

At first, the coaches and players weren't certain either Horne or Gompers could play. Gompers tried, but couldn't play; the risks were simply too great.

"I looked at Julie as a little different than my situation," Horne said. "It was unfortunate that she couldn't be on the court. It gave me more motivation to deal with my disorder and actually play."

That motivation spilled over to the rest of the team.

If Horne and Gompers would give everything they could just to try to play, how could anyone else not?

"Julie and Carin never felt sorry for themselves throughout this whole thing," Miller said. "They never used it as an excuse and hardly ever let on if either one of them were having a good day or a bad day. You just never knew."

And it served as a rallying cry for a group that quickly became more like sisters than teammates.

"What it did was make us stronger," Honegger said.

Another case
Months after Horne found out she had the disease, she also found out she wasn't alone.

Jordan Sigalet, then a senior standout goalie on the Falcon hockey team, revealed in December 2004 that he had MS.

Sigalet's condition became a major story, one Horne quietly watched unfold.

"I looked at it as a relief to know I wasn't the only athlete here with the disease," Horne said. "I looked at him in a way that if he was a star player in hockey and was still able to perform to the best of his abilities, that gave me the most motivation in the world that I could do the same in basketball. He was a person I could look to."

Miller and Falcon hockey coach Scott Paluch spoke regularly and gave Horne and Sigalet the chance to meet and talk if they desired.

"Carin was a little bit more private," Miller said. "She didn't even talk to the team much about it, let alone the public or a person outside of our family."

Sigalet is playing professional hockey in the Boston Bruins' organization as he continues to deal with the disease.

Keeping a secret
For as talented as the Falcons have been on the court the past few seasons, their ability to keep a secret might even outshine their abilities on the floor.

What is talked about in the locker room stays in the locker room.

But how something as large as a star player stricken with a major disease can stay out of the public eye is amazing.

"I really respect and thank my teammates and coaches for that," Horne said. "They knew it was something that was hard for me. They knew I didn't want it to be public and they kept it a secret."

Miller and his staff did subtle things that had one known Horne had the disease, one would have known what was done and why. Instead, giving Horne a few extra minutes of rest or allowing her some extra time to warm up looked like no big deal.

"There were days you would notice that she just seemed to have trouble getting warmed up. Once she was warmed up, she was fine," Miller said. "Then there were times where you could almost feel like there was a sensation that she had some numbness going on, almost like she hit her crazy bone or she had a little different of a stride length in her gait. But very subtly, almost something you could only pick up from being around her every single day for hours, but nothing that ever raised alarms that it could be anything serious."

This season, especially, Miller got Horne extra rest and disguised any inklings of serious illness by saying Horne was slowed by leg injuries.

In BG's first 21 games of the season, Horne played fewer than 20 minutes eight times. She played more than 30 minutes only four times, all in close games.

"Carin never let on, ever, if she was having a good day or a bad day," Miller said. "She has dealt with some chronic lower leg injuries, but we all believe that some of it had to do with her MS."

Miller saved Horne early to let her shine late in the year, when BG needed her most.

In the MAC tourney, Horne played 79 minutes in three games, scoring 51 points and grabbing 17 rebounds in that time.

"She never complained about not playing," Miller said. "Late in the year, when she'd have an explosive game, I'd say to her `There's the old Carin Horne.' She said `Coach, all you have to do is play me those extra minutes and I'll be the old Carin Horne every time.' We'd look at each other and smile and laugh. She understood I was trying to save her and protect her at times."

Playing through
Trying to make jump shots isn't easy. It's made even more difficult when defenders are flying toward the shooter and waving their arms in the process.

Now try catching a pass and shooting all in one motion with a defender draped on the shooter.

And add to it, not being able to feel one's arms or hands. Welcome to Horne's world at times on the floor.

"There were times my arm went numb. There were times I shot the ball and bricked or times I shot and didn't know if it was going in," Horne said. "It happened in spurts. It would go on for a half and in the second half, I'd be fine, or it would go on for the first 10 minutes and then nothing until the last minute of the game.

"I found myself taking electrolytes, drinking Gatorade a lot, trying to stay hydrated. I tried to exhaust myself as much as possible during warmups and let my body get a little fatigued."

Those moments held Horne back at times, and led to games where she wasn't spectacular.

"I said numerous times that the accomplishments of this senior class through the years was amazing, but I always asterisked it," Miller said. "I've always said if you only knew the adversity that this team has overcome... It still gives me chills.

"There were numerous times I left and I just wanted to scream and tell people that Carin had a bad day today and she still played 30 minutes and still was a factor. She may have missed 10 shots, but for the last 20 minutes she was on the floor, she couldn't feel her hand and was still out there, doing whatever she could to help this team win."

It's almost unthinkable that someone who felt the symptoms Horne did on the floor could score 1,341 points, rank fourth in her school's career list for 3-pointers made, and be tied for third in school history in career steals.

"Having the background and the knowledge we have and not being able to physically do it on the floor is frustrating," said Honegger, who battled through her own share of injuries. "Every game can be a battle within your own body. It amazes me at what she was able to do. It's crazy because looking back, I'd forget she had anything wrong with her."

Horne's shining moment, though, came in Cleveland when she was named the MAC tourney MVP. She scored in double-figures in the MAC title game for the fourth straight year, becoming the first player in conference history with at least 10 points in four championship games.

"Wow. It was a real-life changer for me," Horne said of being voted the MVP. "I just tried to go out every game and play my game and help us to a victory. It really touched me to know that people recognized me."

No medication
Horne's story is already eye-popping enough.

Now consider this.

She's dealt with the disease for nearly three years using only her spirituality and competitive nature. Horne doesn't take medication for the disease. The potential side effects of the medication trouble her.

"It deterred me from wanting to take it," Horne said. "My teammates and coaches were always on my back about taking medications to stop the progress of the disease. I have a real strong faith in God. He and I talk and I look at it that if I'm OK now, I'll be OK later. I believe there will be signs to let me know if I need to get on medication. I'd rather take the natural way of dealing with things now.

"I felt if I could get through the training here and Curt down my back, driving us like crazy every day that I could play anywhere at any level. I refuse to let this condition hold me back."

And Horne refuses to be treated differently because of her condition.

Shortly after she was diagnosed, Miller sat down with Horne's parents to talk about what to do.

"I thought the conversation was going to be `take it easy on my daughter, understand that this is going on with her body and you'll have to be patient with her," Miller said. "I found out right away that they wanted to not be treated any differently. They wanted me to coach Carin just as hard as I always coached Carin and push her. She was going to push as hard as she could every single day."

In the future
Horne pushed herself just as hard in the classroom, graduating in three and a half years with a double major. She's working on her master's degree now.

"What Carin has accomplished, a double degree in three and a half years, starting her master's degree, finishing her career as one of the top 12 scorers in school history with other great players getting a lot more touches than she did, finishing as a part of a program that has to go down as the best MAC team in the history of women's basketball in our conference and she did it with such class and integrity on and off the court," Miller said. "She's amazing. She's tough to replace."

Horne hasn't seen a doctor since her diagnosis and admits the disease could worsen.

She was a bulldog on the court. Don't expect anything different in her daily life.

Whatever the disease throws at her, Horne is ready.

"I'm going to beat it," she said. "I have a really strong belief in God. He is my savior. I pray to God. I won't let it get me down. I'm going to live me life as usual. I'm not going to alter it."

Carin Horne (photo by BGSU Photo Services)