News That Matters To Antelope County - Your News. Your Way. Every Day!
© Pitzer Digital, LLC
The Elkhorn Valley wrestlers wore their “Hart” on their sleeves Friday afternoon and left one of their biggest supporters with tears of gratitude.
Kandi Hart was perched high in the Neligh-Oakdale bleachers when senior Brock Schaecher asked her to step down to the mats for a group photo before the district tournament began.
Because she takes so many photos for the team, the Tilden woman thought nothing of the request until the entire team gathered around her for the photo.
Recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Hart thought the gesture was very kind “of my boys.”
That’s when the entire team took off their jackets in unison to display t-shirts in her honor with the hashtag #HartStrong on the sleeves.
The tears started flowing, but the surprise wasn’t over just yet. Hart, who recently cut off her long, flowing hair in hopes of using it to make a wig to wear at her son’s summer wedding, learned the Elkhorn Valley team raised more than $1,000 in 72 hours selling t-shirts to cover the cost of her wig. They even had enough money left for a recliner, so she could rest after surgery.
“I’m just so overwhelmed. I’m so humbled that they would do such a big thing for me,” said Hart through the tears. “I’ve never felt so special in all of my life. Those boys are my boys, and I care a lot for them, too.”
But it wasn’t just the wrestling team supporting Hart on Friday, the girls basketball team wore the t-shirts as warm-ups that night, too. And dozens in the crowd of both events wore the shirts and stood up proudly for Hart to see their support. All in all, 114 shirts were sold in those three days.
“We hope it helps lift your spirit and shows just how much you are appreciated,” Stephanie Thompson read to the crowd during the presentation.
Little more than a month ago, Hart and her husband, Tim, received the devastating news. A faith-filled person, perhaps the most devastating aspect was that she would need help, something she confessed is hard for her.
“I’m the one who helps others. I’m not the one who asks for help. I don’t know how to do that,” Hart admitted.
With such an aggressive cancer battle, Hart knew she’d lose her long hair quickly. Her family found someone willing to make a wig from her long hair, but it would be costly. Considering the extra expenses of chemo, travel and missing work, a wig wasn’t a necessity.
But the Falcon wrestling team disagreed.
“The boys’ intentions were to raise enough money to be able to pay for the wig you are getting. They nailed it,” Thompson said. “Once what we were doing spread a little, we had people coming to us to donate.”
Hart continued to wipe tears from her face as Thompson read more details about the fundraiser, all of which was kept from Hart. Even her son Tyler drove to Neligh to attend the surprise, despite missing his own district tournament where he is a volunteer coach.
Son Doug and daughter Terryn were unable to attend, but were able to watch the live video feed via the Antelope County News. By Monday, more than 40,000 people had viewed the surprise video.
“That just blows my mind,” Hart said. “Thousands of people were watching something about me. I like to be behind the scenes and don’t like all the attention. I had people come up to me all weekend and say they were praying for me, and I didn’t know who they were.”
Hart credits that to wonderful people and to the sport of wrestling.
“Wrestling is a close-knit sport,” she said. “You see the same families at every wrestling meet. Wrestling is really a big family, whether you know each other or not.”
Despite having her second round of chemo on Thursday, Hart was still at the Neligh-Oakdale gym Friday afternoon to take photos of the Falcons — like she has for the last two decades.
With chemo every other week, Hart chose her off week to be during state wrestling, which is almost a holiday in her family. Ironically, the first day of state is actually Valentine’s Day, which for a woman named Kandi Hart, can be a blessing and a curse. Of course, Hart married into the name when she and Tim tied the knot.
“I married the love of my life. The name was a bonus,” Hart said with a chuckle.
The two will spend the most romantic day of the year at their favorite place — state wrestling.
“I can’t imagine a better way to spend Valentine’s Day,” Hart said. “I’ll be taking photos and watching my favorite sport with the love of my life. It doesn’t get any better than that.”