Brooke Welch was a 12-year-old, active in three sports in middle school at Sale Creek, when she first showed signs of having Type 1 diabetes.
"My mom said she knew something was wrong," Welch said. "I was at a basketball game and wasn't feeling well. I remember I went home and drank seven glasses of sweet tea."
Welch's mother, Jennifer, is a nurse. She checked her daughter's vital signs, then decided to take her to a nearby hospital emergency room. Brooke's blood glucose test registered a number that was a lot closer to 800 than 80, which is about normal.
Now a high school junior and a libero on the Lady Panthers' volleyball team, Brooke is continually learning how to cope with her condition.
"It's a process," she said. "You get used to it."
Welch has been a mainstay for her teammates this season and plans to be again when Sale Creek competes in the Tennessee Tandem tournament held Friday and Saturday at GPS, Ooltewah and Baylor.
Twenty-eight teams will be in action. Friday's pool play is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Pool play for seeding purposes begins Saturday morning at 9. Afterward teams will be split into Gold and Silver brackets for single-elimination set to begin in the middle of the afternoon. The Silver championship is scheduled at Ooltewah at 5 and the Gold championship at GPS is scheduled at 6.
Sale Creek, a Gold-bracket qualifier in the Tandem a year ago, is the only Class A team in this year's field. Welch was able to contribute to the Lady Panthers' school-best third-place finish in the state tournament last season, but did have some diabetic complications in the early part.
"It's really hard to describe," Welch said of episodes when her blood sugar level rises. "A diabetic is probably the only one that can understand. It's like everything around you is moving and you're just standing there. People are talking but you can't understand what they're saying."
Welch's teammates would likely offer more than just concern if they could.
"She really doesn't want to talk about it," said longtime Sale Creek coach Debbie Hill, who also coached Brooke's mother in volleyball and basketball. "We've asked her a lot about it. She likes to self-manage and be independent about it.
"She just wants to be treated normal. I don't have to push her very much. She has a lot of internal drive."
So far in 2012 Welch's blood sugar levels have been manageable and she's on pace to do more on the court this season. She leads the Lady Panthers with 218 digs and is fourth on the team with 18 aces.
"She played a lot last year, but this year she's taken a huge step," Hill said. "She leads our defense from the back row. She's improved an unbelievable amount since last year. She has a lot of desire to be a good player. She's kind of that way at everything in life. She goes at everything wide open."
And by everything Hill means many things. Besides all the time spent in the gymnasium, Welch is a devoted student and active with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, along with several other activities around school.
Sale Creek is 13-8 going into tonight's District 6 match at Lookout Valley at 6 and the teams have agreed to earmark money from each team's home match against the other toward breast cancer awareness. That means Welch will be helping fight one disease while she fights another on her own.
"That's my life," she said.