By John Bombatch
BELLBROOK — She’s isn’t the fastest runner on the team, but Dasha Crocker’s drive and determination as a member of the Bellbrook Middle School cross country team has been legendary.
Crocker can usually be found bringing up the rear of most any cross country meet she runs, and that’s okay with her. She would love to win points for her teammates, but she has other reasons for running, too.
Diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy as a baby, Crocker has dealt with its physical effects almost all of her life. Her peripheral vision on her left side is blurred, she attends speech therapy courses to learn how to operate her damaged muscles properly in order to speak, she has asthma, and CP has also affected the use her arms.
But Dasha Crocker isn’t one to sit around moping about the life she was dealt. She’s all about pushing herself to her limits, while supporting her teammates — and her opponents — along the way.
“I feel like I need to do what I can to be successful in life, and that includes running,” Dasha explained in a voice as slow, and steady and confident as herself.
And with that need comes a will and determination rivaled by few. Dasha could be in a wheezing asthma fit, as the result of breathing in all the dust kicked up by the other runners ahead of her, and she might be several minutes off the leader’s pace, but the tiny eighth-grade fireball will never stop.
Teammate Madelyn Hess has known Dasha since kindergarten. Hess loves watching people’s reactions to Dasha at the cross country races.
“Most people will look at her and think ‘Wow, she’s not going to be able to do this,’ but then when they see her during the race, I can see how she blows their minds,” Hess said. “They can’t get over how determined she is. She’s easily one of the most determined runners, probably the most determined, on the whole team.”
Fellow teammate Avarie Faulkner hasn’t known Dasha for as long, but she knows that grit and determination just as well.
“I mean, she won’t walk! She told me ‘When I see other people walking, everybody stares.’ And so she keeps going and pushing herself to the finish,” Faulkner said. “And she’ll often come up to other runners who have stopped running, and she’ll get next to them and cheer them on and encourage them to finish with her. She’s amazing!”
Asked whether she’d just like to stop and take it easy during a race, just once, Dasha Crocker broke into a slight frown.
“I’m doing it for myself,” she said. “I won’t stop!”
Unable to keep the ruse going, she then broke into her usual playful smile.
Indeed, she won’t ever stop. But as a baby, there was a time when Dasha nearly didn’t get to start … at life.
Months after her birth, Dasha was taken to the University of Chicago Children’s Hospital where it was confirmed she had Cerebral Palsy. But doctors also learned, during a routine MRI, that she had a potentially terminal brain tumor nestled up next to her brain stem.
The family had since moved to Bellbrook, and so when Dasha had a follow-up appointment at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, it was learned the tumor had grown and had to be removed immediately.
“So in November when Dasha was 2 1/2 years old, she had brain surgery. And during that brain surgery, she had a mild stroke. As the result of that, she’s lost her peripheral vision on her left side,” Crocker’s grandmother, LaVerne Ailman said.
Dasha once missed a turn in a race, because the sign to turn had been in her blurred peripheral vision. She went back and re-ran that section of the race, and hasn’t missed a sign since then.
“But the Cerebral Palsy and the tumor were unrelated! So if it hadn’t been for Dasha being diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, the doctors might not have ever found that tumor in time,” explained Ailman, who picked Dasha up from school on this day.
So maybe the Cerebral Palsy was a blessing: Were it not for doctors testing her for that disease, they could’ve missed the tumor until it was too late.
And Dasha wouldn’t be here at all.
Her parents, Conan and Ali Crocker, are understandably proud of Dasha’s accomplishments.
“To go from being told that my baby 10-month-old has cerebral palsy and my 2 1/2 year old has a brain tumor to seeing what Dasha has accomplished, it still brings tears to my eyes. She’s in advanced classes, has gotten straight As throughout middle school, got a superior rating at the state science fair, and has exhibited her amazing tenacity on the cross country course. While I would never wish her hardships on anyone, I wouldn’t have her any other way. She has made us all better people,” said mom.
About that science fair project. Dasha’s project was on the benefits of a three-finned rocket in comparison to one with four fins. She is a huge fan of astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson, and strives to be an astrophysicist herself some day.
Conan Crocker sums up his daughter in more sporting terms.
“Simply put, Dasha is a bad ass, which she proves time and again, whether it’s on the cross country course as she pushes herself for a new personal time record, or in the Red River Gorge back country with a full pack on her back, climbing up a ravine trail,” he said by email.
Middle School coach Kim Lord recalled an afternoon in school before the Bellbrook Invitational meet, held earlier this month.
“It was a Friday, the day before the meet, and Dasha had gone to the school nurse’s office with a really bad cough,” Lord explained. “And she was crying. She didn’t want to go home, because she knew that if you weren’t at school that whole day, you couldn’t run in the meet.”
The school nurses called Lord to their office to try and calm Dasha down.
“That’s Dasha. It was the team’s home meet and she didn’t want to let her teammates down,” Lord said.
And when Crocker is not running around with her fellow harriers in a cross country meet, you can find Dasha on the sidelines with the eighth grade marching band … as a percussionist.
“That’s just the kind of person Dasha is. She’s not our fastest runner, but that’s not what makes her the most valuable person on our team,” Lord said. “Since I met her, I’m less likely to use the word ‘disability,’ and I’m less likely to use the word ‘handicapped,’ because those words don’t apply to her at all.”
The hard work and tenacity on the cross country trails has paid off for Dasha.
All season long, she has been pushing to beat her previous best finishing time that was in the high 21-minute range.
On Saturday, Oct. 9, in the Southwestern Buckeye League Championships at Community Park in Franklin, (in coach Lord’s words): “Dasha crushed her PR with a time of 21:18! … and she has expressed her desire to run on the High School team next year!”
Dasha Crocker may not win a cross country race, ever. But she has earned the admiration of her coaches, teammates and even her opponents just by showing her determination and drive in everything she does.
She’s an inspiration to the rest of us, as well.