Gnegy’s relentless desire

Having the drive to finish what they start encompasses a multitude of individuals. What makes Katie Gnegy’s case unique is the simple fact she continues to play tennis even when her disease backs her into a corner.

Diagnosed as a young child with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, Gnegy’s determination has never allowed her to give up while pursuing the sport she loves.

On occasion, she doesn’t know if she will be able to grip a racquet. Yet, here it is the week of the state tournament and she is a state qualifier in both singles and doubles.

“The disease causes a lot of pain to move and do different things,” Gnegy said. “A lot of times my joints will get red and they will get big, but you ice them and take some motrin. And you just keep playing.

“I was always a stubborn child. When I stuck my mind to doing it, I went out there and did it.”

Her contributions in the classroom also are affected. There are times when she can’t use a pen or pencil because her joints are so swollen. Yet, she finds a way to complete the task at hand – even if it means typing the answer.

“There is no cure for the juvenile arthritis she has,” said her mother, Margaret Gnegy said. “She will likely outgrow some of it. The main thing is to prevent joint damage and prevent permanent disability.

“The medication she is on keeps her joints from swelling. Her joints attack themselves and that’s why they swell.”

Gnegy has educated herself about the disease and taken several trips to Washington, D.C., to talk to senators and state representatives about the the disease which inflicts 300,000 children throughout the country.

“I’m there to lobby for arthritis legislation and to help get funding to find a cure and get research,” Gnegy said.

While at the conference, Gnegy met another girl from West Virginia who was a track and cross country runner.

“My big thing is how important it is that we have the medication,” Gnegy said. “Without it, I wouldn’t be able to be out here playing tennis or the other girl would not have been able to run track or cross country.

“We wouldn’t be able to have normal lives without it.”

Last year as a sophomore, Gnegy qualified for state but experienced a flare-up. She managed to play through the pain and reached the semifinals at No. 2 doubles.

“Her hands got very swollen,” her mother said. “She had a rough couple weeks and was a hurting puppy.

“There’s no rhyme or reason for why it happens. The best thing she can do is keep moving and keep her active. And stay healthy.”

Gnegy’s brothers, Matthew and Andrew, along with her father, David, have served as her support system. Yet, she remains as independent as the disease will allow.

“I’m lucky to be out here and doing this where I can control my disease because there are some kids who aren’t so lucky – some are wheelchair-bound,” Gnegy said. “I couldn’t imagine not being a part of this and playing tennis. It’s my sport.”

Contact Kerry Patrick at kpatrick@newsandsentinel.com