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Conti comes through

Senior midfielder writes ultimate chapter in a truly inspiring comeback story.

March 02, 2011|By Gabriel Rizk,

ANAHEIM — Coming off the bench amid the pressure cooker of a sudden death overtime to decide a tense scoreless soccer match with a championship berth on the line wasn't so much a challenge for Alyssa Conti as it was a reward.

The Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy forward and co-captain knows all about being challenged, being less than a year-and-a-half removed from battling a paralyzing and potentially fatal illness, one which forced her to contemplate life in a wheelchair before forcing her to work for months to regain the coordination and athleticism that was once second nature.

Every minute since her brush with viral encephalitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome in late-2009 that Conti has been able to spend doing things she once took for granted — including playing soccer — has been a reward for her toughness and refusal to accept anything but a full recovery.


And, being mobbed by her teammates in joyous celebration after kicking home the goal that sent the Tologs to a 1-0 win over Esperanza in the CIF Southern Section Division I semifinals on Tuesday and into the first division championship game in program history, had to be one of the sweetest yet.

"I can't even put it into words to describe it," Conti said. "It's amazing."

Triggered by an acute infection that causes inflammation of the brain, Guillain-Barre syndrome causes ascending paralysis beginning in the feet or hands and radiating toward the torso. Conti experienced paralysis from the hips down just weeks before the start of the Tologs' 2009-10 season.

"I had the choice if I wanted to come back and play [in 2009-2010] or not and, to me, it wasn't really an option, I had to get back on the field, I had to get back out there," Conti said. "That's the mentality I have and that's the kind of person I am."

After weeks in the hospital, Conti's body fought off the infection, which left her needing to teach herself how to walk and perform other simple tasks all over again. She began with crawling and progressed through daily physical therapy every day.

"When she was in the hospital, that was her first thought — I've got to get back on the field," teammate Breeana Koemans said. "She has a lot of spirit."

Conti played through the Tologs' 2009-10 campaign, which saw the team win a Southern California Regional title and was back at full strength for the current campaign, which has seen the team win a Mission League title and now advance to CIF championship.

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