Laurel Christensen, Mount St. Charles’ No. 1 singles player, Is in the midst of wrapping up a stellar tennis season. The Mount junior just earned All-State honors after she reached the Round of 8 before falling to eventual state champ Moses Brown’s Kylie Eaton in the RIIL Girls State Singles Championship..
Christensen’s inspiration is her teammate, Amanda Thrul, a senior who hasn’t had a chance to play a lot of tennis the past few years.
“I really look up to her,” said Christensen. “She goes out of her way to be kind to people and make them feel seen,
Christensen honored her friend and teammate last week during Senior night.
“You are one of the happiest people I have ever met. No matter where or when I see you, you always have a smile on your face. (even if it’s 6:45 in the morning)! You have always been one of the most dedicated people on the team. You always give 100% effort towards everything you do. You never give up or complain about a drill. I really appreciate that about you.“
It hasn’t always been easy for Thrul to smile. She has Leukemia.
Thrul is upbeat, finds the positive in the negative and stresses the strong relationship she has forged with her MSC teammates has helped her get through the most difficult times.
“Everyone’s been super supportive. They’ve been there for me every step of the way. I definitely wouldn’t be there without everyone at that school,” said Thrul.
Thrul never played tennis before she arrived at MSC as a freshman. She wanted to try something new and make new friends. Thrul fell in love with tennis right away and immediately built a strong bond with her teammates, who became some of her best friends.
A National Honor Student (NHS) ), athlete and member of the MSC band, it was towards the end of her sophomore year when something just wasn’t quite right. Thrul wasn’t feeling 100 percent and struggled to get up a flight of stairs. She began to notice bruises on her body.
“I finally went to the doctor and he did blood work,” she said. ““Obviously it came back very bad.”
She was diagnosed with Leukemia.
“It was scary at first,” said Thrul.
She spent the next month – the entire last month of her sophomore year – undergoing treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital.
“I will sing their praises till the end of the earth,” she said.
After a month in the hospital, she was able to go home but would return to Boston daily for the next several months to undergo treatment. She was tired and lost her hair, but texts, cards and calls from her teammates and the MSC community kept her spirits up. She never complained or felt sorry for herself. Instead, Thrul focused on her studies, excelled in school and never fell behind.
She began to feel better towards the end of the summer. As the fall began her treatments were reduced and she was able to go back to MSC for her junior year.
Unable to play tennis, she took on the important roles as team manager.
“I love the girls on the team. The bond on this team is insane. I was really upset that I wasn’t going to be a part of it, so when they said I could participate even in a way that wasn’t necessarily playing, I was more than happy to do it,” she said.
Thrul embraced her new role.
“It gave me something to focus on,” she said. “To be able to still participate was really helpful. The girls were really good about always keeping me included. Even during practice I was interacting. I was involved. It made a huge difference to me”
Thrul also made a huge difference to the team. Christensen addressed the impact of Thrul’s role.
“Last year, you weren’t able to play because of your health, but you stayed on the team anyways and you were the best team manager EVER. You were always there even though you couldn’t play, and we appreciated that SO MUCH.”
“Some days she would have to miss a practice and she would say, “I’m so sorry and was choked up. She felt like she was letting us down,” said MSC coach Marissa Pitrone. “I’m saying ‘You don’t have to apologize. We totally support you. We just want you to be well. That’s what is most important.’”
Thrul is now a senior. She is in remission and has entered the final treatment phase. Her trips to Boston have been reduced to just once a month. She feels much better, her hair has begun to grow back and she is no longer the team manager – she is back on the court playing.
Thrul didn’t expect to climb up the ladder her senior year. She was just happy to be part of the team.
“It’s fun. It’s a great way for me to get some exercise in and hang out with my friends. Being able to play is really just the most important thing. I forgot just how good it feels to do stuff again,” said Thrul. “No one likes to go for a run…that’s not fun, but just being able to do it on the team with my friends is an amazing (feeling).”
Pitrone said there were times this season when she could see Thrul was in pain, but the MSC tennis player refused to stop playing.
“She is an inspiration,” said Pitrone. “This kid is amazing. Even during chemo, she’s out there giving 110 percent. There were times I’d see her limping, but when I’d ask how she was, she would say, ‘‘Coach I’m fine.’ She refuses to quit. She’s out there pushing through. Very determined. She wants to do everything everyone else is doing.”
Thrul’s positive attitude, determination and hard-fought battle against the most challenging opponent will have a long lasting impact on her MSC teammates.
“I think it was a learning experience for all of them just how precious life is and the importance of being teammates not only on the court, but off as well,” said Pitrone.
Thrul will finish treatment in May, graduate in June and hopes to attend Bowdoin College next fall. In the meantime, she has wasted no time giving back to those who have helped her.
For her NHL Leadership project, she raised money that will be used towards holiday gift bags for young patients at the Jimmy Fund Clinic.
“Last year at Christmastime when I wasn’t feeling good my biggest concern was being sent into the hospital,” she said.. “So I can imagine being a little kid who just wants to see what Santa got him and instead you’re stuck in the hospital. I can’t even fathom that happening so being able to do anything to make that better was absolutely a goal of mine.
“Jimmy Fund is one of the greatest organizations. The amount of work and dedication and just absolute kindness that comes out of that group of people is insane,” said Thrul. “They helped me so much. I just wanted to be able to give back and help them.”