by Michael Childers
During the summer months of 2013, Southwestern High School senior Nicole Upchurch spent most of her time lying in a hospital bed wondering if she would ever again get to play soccer again with her Lady Warrior teammates.
After a long summer stay at the University of Kentucky Medical Center for treatment, Upchurch returned to the field on Thursday night in her blue and white Southwestern uniform.
And what a return to the field it was for the Southwestern senior, as she scored not one, but two goals in the Lady Warriors’ 9-0 victory over crosstown rival Pulaski County High School on Thursday evening at the Plains.
It was definitely a comeback to remember for Upchurch, who spent much of her time in the hospital, rather than on the practice field with her Lady Warrior teammates. Things couldn’t have been more perfect for the senior player who thought she may never get to the opportunity to get back on the soccer field.
“Honestly, I would lie there and just think about my first game back,” began Upchurch. “I never in a million years would have thought that it would have been as awesome as it turned out to be. I never would have thought that I would have scored a goal and won 9-0. It is just beyond my wildest dreams, because I thought I would never be out here again.”
Upchurch’s medical issues began with a tumor that kept coming and going in one of her fingers on her left hand. That same finger, unfortunately, had to be amputated from her hand. At first, the doctors though the area was cancer, but thankfully, it wasn’t. The tumor was something called a giant-cell tumor, a benign, yet aggressive non-cancerous tumor.
Things got worse for Southwestern’s #8, as the tumor spread throughout her chest, forcing the doctors to do surgery on her lungs. One of the lungs, however, kept collapsing.
Since her lungs failed to function properly, Upchurch had to have tubes placed in her chest, which really hampered the recovery process. But her health eventually improved enough for her to leave the hospital and return back to Southwestern High School.
Although Upchurch's tumor was considered non-cancerous, doctors often treat such tumors much as they would cancerous cells. Upchurch now takes chemo shots once a week and will soon take them once a month.
It was a long process for Upchurch, one she couldn’t have gone through without the love and support from the teammates on her high school soccer team. No matter the circumstances, Upchurch was not going to give up the same teammates who believed so much in her.
“My team has never given up on me through this entire process,” said the Lady Warrior senior. “There was a point in time that I honestly thought I was done with soccer, but I began to think about how I couldn’t give up on a team that never once gave up on me. My team has taught me what true champions do – they don’t give up on one another, no matter what the circumstances are.”
Upchurch and the Lady Warriors drew a little inspiration from country star Taylor Swift, someone who Upchurch has admired since she was young. Swift, since she began her country music journey, has always had the motto of staying fearless.
When you think of staying fearless, Upchurch has been the definition of it over the past few months.
“I have always written ‘Fearless’ on my wrist before every game since I was little, since I really love Taylor Swift,” explained Upchurch. “It has just always stuck out to me, because you really have to be fearless in everything that you do. When all this happened to me, that was my motto – this team taught me to stay fearless and helped me through this whole journey.”
Just like Upchurch has always done, the Lady Warriors now write ‘Fearless’ on their wrists each time they all step onto the field together.
Now that Upchurch is back on the field playing the game she loves again, she wants the season to last as long as possible. She wants to end her career with a regional championship in the 12th Region Girls Soccer Tournament.
“I wholeheartedly believe that our team has the opportunity to do something awesome this year,” concluded Upchurch. “We will have to work our butts off every game this year, but I feel like we can be region champions. We have the talent and we all love one another.”