Big wins aren’t hard to see

By John Canzano, Bald Face Truth

The hardwood floor at C.C. Perry Gymnasium bends and gives when you bounce a basketball on it. The spring in the natural wood is impossible to miss. So are the celebratory banners that hang from the walls of Warner Pacific University’s home court. But it’s the 4-foot-3 guard sitting at the end of the bench that I want to tell you about today.

They call her “Lexy.”

I can’t stop thinking about her.

When Alexa delos Reyes was 13 months old, she stopped trying to walk. She dragged her left leg on the ground instead. Her parents were concerned. Lexy’s mother and father — Monica and Dante — took her to the Legacy Emanuel hospital, where doctors ordered an emergency MRI.

Brain tumor, they said.

Directly behind the optic nerve, they added.

“It’s the scariest thing we’ve ever been through,” Lexy’s mom told me on Saturday afternoon.

I don’t know if you need an uplifting story today. There’s no telling what kind of week it has been for you. But I challenge anyone to hear about the journey of little Lexy and not walk away with big feelings about it.

She’s 19 now.

Lexy has had 12 cranial surgeries in five different states. Her body has endured more than 1,000 MRIs. Her left side remains weak. She’s been on chemotherapy for most of her life, participated in every cancer trial available, and relapsed 14 times.

When she was 9, surgeons in Boston were trying to remove Lexy’s tumor when they came upon a thin, vein-like strand near the mass. Turns out her optical nerve had split to circumvent the tumor and save her vision.

The body does amazing things, doesn’t it?

Surgeons hadn’t seen anything like it before. They mistook the divided nerve for a blood vessel. It must be feeding her tumor, doctors decided. So they clipped it with a scalpel.

“I think that was the most difficult for her. If she wishes for anything, she wishes she could see again,” her mother said. “There’s nothing out there to teach you or prepare you for this. We leave with sight. Say ‘goodbye’ to my husband — and she comes home blind.”

Coach Matt Gregg and Lexy before a game. (Photo: Norm Maves)

Matt Gregg is Warner Pacific’s long-time women’s basketball coach and athletic director. He stands 6-foot-10, wear glasses, and casts a towering figure on the NAIA campus. I found Gregg on Saturday in his gym office, 90 minutes before tip, loading a crockpot with pulled pork for the team’s post-game meal.

“When I see Lexy it changes my whole mindset,” he said. “She has a tough life. It’s sad and heartbreaking. But she adds so much encouragement to everyone else.”

A decade ago, Gregg opened the doors for Lexy. He invited her to sit on the bench during games. He eventually asked Lexy to sign a letter of intent. Warner Pacific even held a ceremonial signing day in the campus chapel, complete with pompoms.

Gregg gave her a jersey. All these years later, she’s still there at games, in her No. 6 uniform, listening for the sound of the ball on the floor and cheering for her teammates.

“Coach makes sure she feels part of the team,” her mom said. “The only thing she isn’t doing is playing.”

Lexy woke on Saturday morning, particularly energized. Her team, battling through a disappointing 0-13 season, had plans to honor her that evening. They’d wear special jerseys with “LEXY” on the back for their game against Walla Walla University.

Said Lexy, on Saturday afternoon: “I think we are going to kick their booty.”

Before leaving for the gym, she got dressed in her uniform. Then, Lexy’s mother helped her pull on her size-five sneakers. She normally wears a size 2 shoe, but Lexy’s cocktail of prescription drugs (15 medicines at night and 10 more in the morning) have caused her body to swell.

“Basketball is everything to her,” mom said.