Kylee Lahners and Courtney Gano couldn’t be more different, yet they’re fast friends following Gano’s diagnosis and recovery from a rare neurological disorder.
As members of competing softball teams in Southern California, Kylee Lahners and Courtney Gano crossed paths often in summer leagues and tournaments. And when both committed to Washington early in their high-school careers, they made sure to say hi as they passed.
But a true friendship didn’t seem likely, especially after a mutual acquaintance told them they’d never click because of their different personalities. Gano is bubbly and outgoing (“That good alpha female personality that’s pretty confident,’’ in the words of Huskies softball coach Heather Tarr), while Lahners is more introverted and reserved.
Yet here they are, fast friends and confidants, as well as two of the most productive hitters in the Pac-12 for the 19th-ranked Huskies.
Gano, a redshirt junior, is tied for the conference lead with 15 homers. It’s an amazing comeback after missing much of last season with a perplexing illness that strengthened the bonds of their friendship even as it threatened her softball career.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Here's why Baseball Hall of Fame voters got it right with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens
- Where things stand with the Seahawks' defensive coordinator opening as NFL teams make hires
- Mariners position overview: Could Seattle have something special brewing with its starting pitching?
- Seahawks position review: RB Rashaad Penny's late-season emergence may make re-signing him that much more difficult
- 'Dawgs helping Dawgs': How a fellow UW football alum helped former QB Cody Pickett avoid open-heart surgery
Lahners, a senior, is one of the Pac-12 leaders in numerous categories, including batting average (eighth at .421), slugging (fourth at .804), homers (tied for fourth with 10) and on-base percentage (first at .576).
They started to bond midway through their freshman year, discovering that they had more in common than they realized.
“I had to kind of break her,” Gano said with a laugh. “ We were able to share past experiences and build that trust.”
Says Lahners: “I’m super shy. She’s done a very good job of getting me to open up, share some feelings here and there. She’s the one I go to for help if I need to talk about anything.”
Gano needed help last season when she began experiencing baffling — and frightening — symptoms. She had numbness in her toes and fingers, a tingling sensation, muscle weakness and pain all over her body.
At first, she wrote it off to the rigors of catching, a new position. But when Gano couldn’t lift her arms above her head, and began falling down while trying to run, they knew it was more serious. Doctors put her through a battery of tests, trying to pinpoint the cause.
“I remember sitting in Coach Tarr’s office, and we were trying to figure out what was going on and what was the next step,’’ Gano said. “I remember sitting in there crying, just looking at her thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ ”
Gano’s condition was finally diagnosed as Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), a rare neurological disorder, closely related to Guillain-Barre syndrome, that leads to progressive weakness. The diagnosis provided a road map to better times.
“Everything started going uphill once we figured out what was going on, and I had more hope,’’ she said.
Gano’s neurologist settled on a treatment plan of Intravenously Administered Immoglobulin (IVIG), a six-month program in which antibodies collected from the plasma of healthy donors was infused into her body. During those all-day treatment sessions Lahners stepped up, as did many teammates.
“It made me put things in perspective,’’ Lahners said. “I never had a good friend of mine that was sick like that. … It made me take on another role of being extremely supportive and doing what I can to be there for her. I’d visit her and bring little stuff that could make her smile.”
Gano said that Lahners’ support was a huge lift.
“She would come bring me lunch, just hang out and watch TV,’’ she said.
Gano began to regain her strength and resumed softball activities over the summer, but no one knew how her game would be affected this season.
Gano, who redshirted in 2013 because of a thumb injury, was essentially two years removed from regular playing.
“We were holding our breath all summer long, thinking, we may never get her again,’’ Tarr said. “We may not get anything from her. What is she going to be like when she comes back? Is she going to be the same? Is she going to be worse, likely?’’
Stunningly, Gano has emerged as one of the best power hitters in the league for the 31-9 Huskies. She definitely believes her ordeal contributed to making her “even stronger than I was before.”
Gano adds, “To look at it positively, it was kind of nice to be able to start over. In the weight room, we started from scratch … Even hitting, it was almost like starting from scratch.”
Lahners, meanwhile, has thrived since moving to the top of the Huskies’ order three weeks ago. She leads the Pac-12 in walks, but she’s also doing damage when pitchers throw her strikes.
“If there’s a pitch I can hit, I definitely attack it,’’ Lahners said.
Meanwhile, the “opposites-attract” friendship of Gano and Lahners continues to thrive. Gano listed “arguing with Kylee” as one of her favorite things to do on a team questionnaire.
“We’re like sisters, pretty much,” Gano said. “We argue and it’s fun. And we wrestle. … We fight it out.’’
But when it matters, they are there for each other.