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Esprit Decor Student-Athlete of the Week: Braden Stelljes

Braden Stelljes Lafayette
Posted at 5:29 PM, Oct 14, 2022

WILLIAMSBURG, Va.- Lafayette sophomore Braden Stelljes just might be discovering his love for cross country.

"I really like working out and physical activity," he pointed out. "I get to do it with all my friends and cool coaches."

Braden's road to this point, however, has been anything but smooth. During eighth grade, he had to have two operations to remove a malformation in his brain. Upon returning, he suffered shin splints which would eventually lead to a stress fracture. As if those weren't enough, he has a condition called pectus excavatum, which causes his sternum to collapse and puts pressure on his heart and lungs. He would undergo surgery to correct that as well.

The latest operation cost Braden the most when it comes to athletics. Part of the surgery was to insert a bar in his chest to hold up his sternum, meaning he cannot participate in any sports that could jeopardize his safety.

"I can't play soccer anymore, but it was worth it for the benefits," the sophomore noted. "Eventually, it would just get so [bad] that I couldn't even get up a flight of stairs without being gassed."

Something Braden can do is run, and he's attacking cross-country head-on.

"It gives me something to do, friends, something to talk about at school," he said of the sport. "I can hang out with my friends and still stay active."

"He's always asking 'what else can I do?,'" added Rams head coach Cher Lobash. "He's just really fun to work with because he's always trying to figure out how to make himself better."

Lobash has watched Braden's hard work pay off. He's lowered his 5K personal best by more than five minutes from last year to 20:03. She's also noticed how his perseverance can spread and have a positive impact on the other Lafayette runners.

"They learn from his example and how he handles it so well," the head coach noted. "It's great to have somebody that's handled adversity and set such a good example for them."

It's now full speed ahead for the sophomore. He's breathing easier, running smoother and getting better. There's no question that the last two years have tested his mental strength, but he's had a lot of people in his corner who have helped him make strides, both on and off the course.

"I'm thankful for my family, my teammates, coaches and friends for helping me go through it," he said, adding that it was good to see his team out there giving him a look at what was to come. "That was good to see what was ahead of me and now I'm with all of them."

If you have a nominee for Esprit Decor Student-Athlete of the Week, send an email to marc.davis@wtkr.com.