by Adam Paris, ALSF
“No, I want to compete,” Arnav said as he picked his bike up off the ground.
Despite having just fallen off his cycle and shattered his helmet, Arnav was insistent on finishing the cycling competition. Race officials cautioned him against continuing, but there was no stopping the persistent teen. Off he went, finishing 9th in the race despite his early tumble.
That same will to barrel forward, no matter the obstacle, would drive Arnav during a far more grueling fight of his life against childhood cancer.
At the age of 14, Arnav was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the disease that would cost him the ability to ride. It’s the most common form of childhood bone cancer, although there are only 400 known cases of osteosarcoma in the United States. The disease develops from the cells that help create growing bones and happens more frequently in teenage boys in the midst of a growth spurt. For Arnav, a National Honor Society member and winner of the Pennsylvania Academy of Junior Science competition, the diagnosis took away one of his passions in life.
You can’t ride a bike if you don't have a working leg.
The Wheels Start Turning
Biking was an integral part of Arnav’s life since he was 8. Ever since his father picked up the sport to support a friend with multiple sclerosis, Arnav and his twin brother Dhruv were enamored with the sport. Later, their science teacher and family friend noticed the duo cycling and suggested that Arnav and Dhruv train at the local outdoor professional cycling track. The obsession was instantaneous and their passion and brotherly bond only grew.
“It made us both more competitive and want to get better than the other; so we worked harder and harder,” Arnav said. “I think it’s good to have some friendly competition around.”
Arnav and his brother competed at the local, regional and even national levels. Arnav’s favorite competition is endurance based sprint races. He won a state competition and beat out cyclists in age groups older than him. Even after riding in a Northeast regional race that encompasses 13 states, Arnav and Dhruv weren't satisfied with accolades on a regional level. Both of the brothers eyed a place in the national competition and signed up for the USA Cycling Elite & Junior Track National Championships.
A week or so before the Championships in late July 2016, Arnav started mentioning his leg bothered him. The sore calf and lower leg led to a noticeable limp at points, but that seemed typical for an athlete whose training regimen required four to six hours of intense training per day, six days a week. The typical rest, ice, compress and elevate (R.I.C.E.) tactic proved ineffective at curbing the pain. Despite the injuries, Arnav persisted and went to Nationals brimming with optimism. On the day of the competition, more than 50 athletes participated in his age group starting with the initial heats. From there, Arnav emerged to finish a respectable 18th place and his brother wound up 10th overall. Despite the joy at his accomplishment, Arnav’s pain didn’t disappear.
First, a masseuse massaged the aching limb and suggested they see a doctor. A week later, Arnav saw his general physician, who quickly referred them to a sports medicine specialist. Upon looking at his leg, the doctor said X-rays and an MRI would be necessary. Within days, they discovered the osteosarcoma in Arnav’s left leg. The disease would require extensive surgery on his leg.
Arnav was forced to pump the brakes on his cycling career and face his cancer diagnosis with the same relentless spirit he gave to cycling.
Want to read more of Arnav's story? Read part 2 here.