year ago, former UC swimmer Nate Kramer was diagnosed with Leukemia
months following his final race for the Bearcats. Now, the relentless
swimmer fights for his life with the same tenacity with which he
attacked the pool.
- When toeing the edge of the pool, Nate Kramer always held the
same race philosophy.
before his first race as a seventh grader, in high school with the
Anderson Barracudas club team or at the Big East championships for
the University of Cincinnati, Kramer understood his strength.
guys that will hang back and really push it at the end," he said.
"I always had trouble with that because I went out very fast. I go
out and just try to hang on. I knew it was going to hurt at the end,
so may as well go fast when it doesn't hurt."
prospect of pain never deterred this quiet, lanky kid from the East
side of Cincinnati. During a surprising rise to prominence and a
scholarship to swim at UC, this philosophy morphed into a reputation.
Among his teammates. Among his parents. Among his coaches.
matter the position in the race, no matter the significance of the
event, Nate never relented. He never gave an inch. Until the final
moment his outstretched 6-foot frame touched the wall he left no
doubt how he would be defined in the race.
saw himself as the fight to the bitter end no matter what - in
practice, in races," UC swim coach Monty Hopkins said. "I've seen
people get in races, get behind and give up. He never gave up on
anything. He was just always that way."
Kramer is defined as a fighter.
were definitely times when it just hurt the entire race," he said.
"You do it, because, well, you want to win."
year following his final race for the Bearcats, the mentality and
reputation of Nate as the fearless fighter hasn't disappeared.
at all. In fact, it's what those closest to him believe is saving his
one year ago -- June 28, 2011 - Nate Kramer was diagnosed with
the year since, he underwent 30 procedures, six rounds of chemo, lost
his spleen along with 31 pounds and spent the majority of his days
buried in the bowels of Children's Hospital. His father, Vince,
referred to the last 365 days as "a difficult journey." The
polite, tactful father of three polite, tactful boys gently phrased
his headline. In reality, enduring I-75 at rush hour would be
considered a difficult journey. Nate faced a daily, year-long grind
with his life hanging in the balance.
going against the house here as far as odds on coming out of this,"
Vince said. "But he's beaten a lot of other odds along the way
here. He seems to be an odds-beater. It's what is driving the family.
He's just one of these kids that doesn't want to give up."
soft smile and even-keeled demeanor shadowed him since his childhood,
rubbing off onto all those he met. Yet, even the most light-hearted,
affable of young men felt the drain of this tidal wave of pills,
procedures and prayers. Next to his bedside, however, have been
friends, family and a fighting spirit.
and doctors come and go, will and optimism never leave.
have bad days, of course," Nate said. "Generally I was always a
positive person no matter what. There's no reason to sulk around
about it. It happened. You kind of have to get over it. It sucks, but
you still have a life to live."
entered his senior year with expectations to cap off his UC swimming
career with a memorable farewell tour. All signs pointed to that
happening. The high point of his career to that point came the year
before when during his junior season he qualified to swim in the Big
East championship final.
was swimming the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyle at the time and
even volunteered to swim the mile when the team needed an extra
distance swimmer. Kramer didn't finish at the top of any races at the
conference championships, but did reach his goal of breaking 1:40 in
the 200 meters.
a guy you could put on a relay and he'd give you 100 percent no
matter what it was," Hopkins said. "His role grew as the team
needed and as his capabilities improved. He was just a guy that you
could count on. He was that way in everything he did. Nate's the guy
that if he says he's got your back, he's got your back. You can count
through his senior season, however, Nate's times mysteriously began
to drop. Nobody owned an explanation. Not coaches, teammates nor his
parents. The disappointment continued through the end of his senior
year when Nate failed to qualify for the Big East tournament finals
he thrived in the year prior.
enjoyed his final season despite the sluggish times. The friends,
trips and camaraderie made it all worth while. Life went on. He was
working to pay for the final quarter he needed to complete his
June 28th happened," Nate said.
date locks into the brain like a birthdate. Probably will forever for
the Vice and De Ann Kramer, along with Nate's brothers Zach, 25, and
Mitch, 20. A trip to the doctor sparked unusual results and
consequential trip to the ER. On the way over, Nate made a joke in
passing about the problem probably being Leukemia. In retrospect, the
quip was ill-timed, but that's exposes how unfathomable being
diagnosed with the disease seemed at the time.
it became a reality.
Vince, the moment shocks him.
my wife telling me that in the hallway of the emergency room," he
said. "It was literally devastating. I felt like I couldn't talk."
three years the UC swim team took part in the Ted Mullins Hour of
Power charity swim event with proceeds benefiting the university's
Barrett Center for cancer research. In the years prior to being
diagnosed with Leukemia, Nate took part along with the rest of his
cause was worthy and it always seemed the right thing to do.
Suddenly, after June 28th, the event took on a fresh layer
of importance and urgency.
witnessed the broken hearts that filled his swim team when Nate
returned to inform them of his news. It only made sense to switch the
December charity event to benefit the Nate Kramer Medical Fund. And
did the swim team ever respond.
were very upset," Hopkins said of when they originally heard of
Nate's diagnosis. "We raised two to three times more money (than
only did the team dedicate time and money, they made up and sold
"Fight for Nate" T-shirts and wristbands.
have school, they have swimming, some of them have a job," Nate
said. "Then they still are willing to help someone out. It is
crazy. College kids, putting down $20? There's a weekend. Kids that
don't have a lot of money still donating and the team has been so
supportive, just knowing that they are with me and care how I do is
probably the biggest thing."
family consensus suggests the response of the UC swim team made all
the difference in remaining positive through the darkest days.
say this with absolute, total conviction," Vince said. "His
teammates absolutely renewed my faith in the younger generation. We
are going to be OK once these folks get out into the working world
and become the next leaders of our country; they are amazing. I've
had somewhat of a cynical spin on a lot of folks, but after this last
year now really has softened that in me."
RUN OR STRIKEOUT'
the support of his teammates, the last year has provided one trying
roller-coaster ride with hopes of ending in a bone-marrow transplant
that could deliver a cure.
fungal, sinus infection suffocated the process from the beginning and
was the reason Nate needed procedure after procedure. He spent
approximately four straight months in the hospital as the infection
stagnated the process. Eventually, he left for a little more than a
week. Then it was back in the hospital for month after month.
the most intensive two-week stretch, Nate estimated he endured a
procedure every other day.
wears on you," Nate said. "You always hurt. You wake up from the
surgery and you feel like you got hit with a baseball bat in the
sinus infection was followed by a lung condition and Leukemia
mutating into MDS - the same complication that recently struck Good
Morning America anchor Robin Roberts.
swimming weight his senior year was 170 pounds. His already skinny
frame eroded to 139. The closest association he could find to a
workout was sitting up for 15 minutes. For someone who was used to
awaking at 5 a.m for swim practice many mornings, the routine strayed
as far from normalcy as imaginable.
days his primary job is to gain weight. And he's already packing on
the pounds while enjoying his longest stint at home since beginning
of the process. Being able to wake in the morning walk to the
refrigerator instead of ordering hospital food has become a
rediscovered joy of life.
all the adversity, though, Nate met the setbacks with little more
than a shrug and knowing nod. In fact, he felt guilty even
considering it while soaking in his surroundings at Children's.
to complain as a 23-year-old when there is a 3-year-old going through
the same thing," Nate said.
response other than head down, fight forward wouldn't make sense.
Never has. The road to a bone-marrow transplant had certain steps
that needed to be taken and he wasn't about to complain. He would
swim the race and fight through whatever pain it took to finish.
days shy of Thursday's one-year anniversary, the finish line
approaches the horizon. Turns out Nate fortunately is a perfect
marrow match with his older brother, Zach. The 25-year-old who spent
the last six years in the marines and served in Iraq will continue
his role of hero.
Nate's been cleared as fungus free and able to move forward.
July 9, he's scheduled to be admitted for a bone-marrow transplant
and his blood will eventually become Zach's exact DNA.
are no certainties the procedure will work. For almost a year after,
Nate's immune system will be compromised as it regenerates with new
the doctor put it, there can only be one of two possible outcomes,"
Vince said. "It's either we strikeout or hit a home run. We are
also well aware this is Nate's only hope for a cure."
lane to recovery sits wide open, will be far from easy and most
definitely painful. Don't expect Nate to worry about such issues.
Wouldn't be his way. Instead, he'll do all he knows - all he has
ever known. He'll do what's defined him as a swimmer, patient and
person. What brings all those around him hope and optimism.
ignore the pain and he'll fight.
want to win," he said. "You do anything to get that."
anybody would like to donate to help out Nate and the Kramer's, The
Nate Kramer Medical Fund has been set up through US Bank. Any and all
donations are welcome.
anyone can visit Nate's carepage set up at this link. Dropping him a
message and offering support goes a long way and has played a major
role in keeping everyone's spirits lifted through the process.