MASON, Ohio — Dan McKay cries at every Mason High School girls cross country meet. He is not alone.
That's because his daughter, Mason junior Grace McKay, is excelling on an inspiring path this season. Three months ago, Grace McKay's Hodgkin's Lymphoma went into remission.
Now she is flourishing as the Comets' fifth runner for a district championship team that competes in the regional meet on Saturday afternoon.
"It's just awesome to watch her," Dan McKay said. "I could not be prouder of her. I've learned a lot about strength and perseverance, because it's greater than what I've ever had."
Grace McKay was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma on Jan. 23. She underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy over six months of treatment until the cancer went into remission in July.
"It was challenging. Not just being able to run and going through chemo, but all the side effects of that," Grace McKay said. "But, I was definitely excited once I was in remission in July to be able to get back to running. That was one of the things that I had been worried about it not being able to do."
The Comets will compete at the regional meet on Saturday afternoon at Troy High School. Last week at the district meet, McKay ran a personal record of 19:17 - topping her previous PR by 40 seconds - in the 5K district meet at Voice of America Park.
Her father speaks with emotion about how much Grace has progressed since her chemotherapy treatments.
"She'd have three, four days in a row where she couldn't get out of bed," said Dan McKay, a graphic design teacher at Mason High School. "So the fact that she's out here running every day and cruising at these races and just getting faster and faster - it's overwhelming."
Grace McKay's determination to succeed has inspired her family, teammates, coaches and the Mason community.
"I definitely learned that there is more possible than what you think," Grace McKay said. "Like last year I would have never thought that I could get as fast as I did this year especially with the circumstances that happened. So just keep working hard, keep pushing and just the value of being confident in what you can do and just trying it even if you don't think it's possible."
Prior to the season, the McKay family was simply hoping that Grace could run with the team after she completed her chemotherapy treatments. McKay ran limited mileage in early August and didn't compete in the team time-trial. But, she wasn't deterred.
"I would start just in my neighborhood running with my dad and we'd run just like 10 minutes and it was pretty slow and it was pretty hard. But then slowly I just came back to practice in August and started a couple days a week," McKay said. "Then when school started, every day I just built up mileage and speed and just kept improving."
McKay was Mason's 30th or 40th runner her first race in September, according to Mason coach Chip Dobson.
This past weekend, McKay was Mason's fifth runner.
"Nobody could be happier for her than her teammates and the coaching staff," Dobson said. "I mean we all were a little weepy thinking about it."
The support from the Mason runners and coaches motivated McKay throughout her chemotherapy treatments. Every text message, greeting card and gift basket lifted her spirits and strengthened her resolve to return to the team in August.
"I was pretty nervous just to come back because I didn't have hair and stuff like that," McKay said. "But they were just so welcoming. I came to a senior-led practice one time and everyone was just so amazing and like asking me questions and just encouraging me while I was running when it was hard."
The team erupted in cheers and tears when he Dobson announced McKay's return to the lineup earlier this season. McKay has been called a hero. Hugs are plentiful. So are shouts of encouragement. Faith has been essential.
"She has a real strong character," Dobson said. "She has a strong faith in God and I think that she relies on Him for that and I think that those things they buoy her in the midst of the toughness that it is. I mean she had some really tough days."
McKay, who likes to play piano, enjoys math and likes to hang out with friends, has also started to consider the medicine or nursing field in college along with psychology. There is no doubt running will accompany her in the future. She already has plans to run a half-marathon in early December. She also plans to run distance events during track and field this upcoming spring.
"I love just having the team aspect of running and a support system of teammates to help; it's just a great family," McKay said.
"And also I just enjoy running in the sport and it's a good form of exercise and de-stressing and something I'm just really passionate about doing."