By ryan buck
Alexis Neumeister is one of the few people in America whose parents not only approved of her decision to get a tattoo during high school, but paid for it.
And then they got some ink too. And then they convinced other family members to do the same.
“It’s a way to show support,” Alexis said. “It has to do with strength.”
Their matching designs all read, “Team Kaylee.” They are in honor of Alexis’ younger sister, who has overcome a brain tumor. Kaylee, now a sophomore in high school, has become a standout golfer and will lead the Lakeview High girls team to the state tournament.
Alexis has added more body art, reflections of the foundation the Neumeister family built five years ago.
In May 2008, Diane Neumeister realized something was terribly wrong with her athletic and outgoing younger daughter.
“I was throwing up,” Kaylee said. “I was having a lot of headaches. One day I saw two softballs coming at me, double-vision, and so my mom took me to the ER after practice. They did a bunch of tests and found a mass on my brain.”
What was expected to be months of treatment became years, through brain operations and then observation.
“At first, they thought it was a rare, fast-growing tumor so they put a mediport in my chest so I could get chemotherapy,” said Kaylee, who was life-flighted to Cleveland almost immediately. “They found out it was very slow-growing. They took it out and they decided to watch it for a few years. A couple years later, they found that it had grown so I went through a year of chemotherapy and ever since then it’s been stable.”
Alexis was a 14-year-old eighth-grader then, but she carried the responsibility of being more than just an older sister.
“I definitely wanted to be the support system, to be the person she could talk to when she thought it wasn’t working or she wasn’t going to make it,” Alexis said.
She balanced school and softball to be with Kaylee through treatments and spearheaded efforts to raise money for her care by way of T-shirts, wrist bands and softball tournaments in her honor.
“It was very hard for her,” Kaylee said. “We’re very close and it was hard for her to cope, but she was always there by my side and that meant a lot to me.”
Kaylee’s health improved, but the treatments robbed her of softball. What it did do, however, was open a new door.
“It stopped me from playing any contact sports since I had a mediport placed, so I just decided to pick up golf one day and I’ve loved it ever since,” said Kaylee, who followed her dad, Lance, into the yard, and then to his favorite course. “I hadn’t even picked up a golf club in my life. He took me out for my first round and I just loved it and I kept going at it. It’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made”
Her fifth-grade math teacher watched her not only battle her illness, but grow from the struggle.
“I had her in class during the time that she was getting chemo,” said Michael Turco, now her golf coach at Lakeview. “She was missing Wednesdays to go get chemo and, as her teacher, she was the same way in the classroom. She is extremely smart. She never missed a beat. What she missed in class, she would come the next day knowing and she was ready.”
Kaylee put in the hours. Turco, who had just been named the golf coach at Lakeview, heard the whispers.
“It wasn’t until probably that she was in seventh grade that I heard that Kaylee had taken up golf and she’s really good,” Turco said. “I know that what she went through was tough and trying. Her fight to get through that translates to the golf course and the way she plays. It drives her to be a better golfer. It drove her to be a better person. I see it and the people around her see it.”
Kaylee won the 14-and-under division in The Vindicator’s Greatest Golfer of the Valley junior tournament in 2012. That fall, she was the runner-up for overall medalist in the All-American Conference. She lost on a playoff hole to advance to the state tournament.
This year, Kaylee’s score of 84 led Lakeview to a third-place finish in the Division II district tournament at Tam O’Shanter Golf Club. The performance helped qualify the Bulldogs for the state tournament. Ryan Rosenberger, Ashley Frasca, Taylor Horn and Alyssa Lang comprise the young squad.