The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is proud to announce its nominee for the 2022-23 National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Sprit of Sport Award is Althoff Catholic High School (Belleville) sophomore Gabby Orlet (right).
The Spirit of Sport Award was developed to recognize teams or individuals associated with high school athletic programs who have overcome incredible adversity or gone above and beyond their peers in actions or service.
“Gabby’s story is an inspiration to us all,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Her passion for sports was clearly a vital part of her recovery. The fact that she came back to play volleyball this year is incredible. The fact that she came back and exceled at the level she did, while still receiving treatment, is nearly unfathomable.”
As an eighth grader in April of 2021, Gabby was diagnosed with a giant cell tumor on her spine that essentially disintegrated her T-11 vertebra. Two surgeries were performed to remove the tumor and replace the T-11 vertebra, placing a cage in her back to support her vertebrae.
During her ten days in the hospital, Gabby had to re-learn how to sit up, stand, and eventually walk again. The cancer also spread to her lungs, with the inoperable lung lesions requiring Gabby to undergo chemotherapy and immunotherapy for the rest of her life.
Despite the toll her chemotherapy takes on her, Gabby’s love for sports has led her back to competition. After being unable to play volleyball, basketball, and soccer as a freshman, Gabby made her triumphant return to the volleyball court in the fall of 2022 as a sophomore, where she completed her amazing comeback by recording over 600 assists from her setter position.
“I have never met anyone as tough and determined as Gabby,” said Althoff Catholic Athletic Director Kathy Wuller.
Gabby was able to achieve All-Conference and All-State honors in volleyball despite undergoing chemotherapy and immunotherapy throughout the season.
“Volleyball has been a huge part of my life,” said Gabby Orlet. “It was a vital part of my being. However, I didn’t have that anymore, so freshman year was about finding myself outside of my comfort zone and being okay with that. Returning this year was overwhelming, but in the best way possible. I was beyond grateful for all the people that have supported me and given me the strength to keep fighting.”