Leaping high, her arm extending well above the net before coming down in a hammering motion, Sierrah Lemons sends the ball crashing toward the floor with a thunderous spike. The act itself is not remarkable; it's a play repeated countless times across high school volleyball courts throughout the season.
But considering sports are at the top of the list of things the Soddy-Daisy High School student shouldn't be able to do, the fact Lemons not only plays but makes the game look effortless certainly should be labeled as remarkable.
Days before she turned 3, doctors informed Lemons' family she had a tumor in her right eye. Needing to act quickly to prevent the disease from spreading to her brain or to her other eye, on the day of her third birthday, her cancerous right eye was removed in a three-hour procedure.
Days later, she was fitted for a prosthetic eye. Although her lack of depth perception would cause her to fall often or bump into doorways until she became accustomed to the blind spot on one side of her body, Lemons' family insisted on finding activities that would help her adjust.facebook
She began taking gymnastics, tap dancing and ballet classes before progressing on to youth league baseball, basketball and track and field, where the lanky kid even learned to excel in the hurdles.
"We went from not knowing if we would even be bringing her home after the surgery, to the relief of being told the cancer had not spread, to eventually just watching her learn to do everything all the other little girls her age were doing," said Lemons' mom, Salena. "She always loved sports. She would practice running hurdles by using sawhorses in the back yard and later even played golf and took karate.
"When she does something, she does it all out. When she decided volleyball would be her sport in high school, she quit everything else and concentrated on being the best player she could be."
Her determination and specialization have paid off as the 5-foot-11 senior has become one of the area's top volleyball players and a college prospect. Through 17 matches this season, she has 175 kills, 32.5 blocks and 24 aces.
She also helped her AAU team, the Georgia Adrenaline, reach a national tournament in Orlando, Florida.
"Really it just motivates me to push harder and show people that I can do as much as anybody," Lemons said. "I've been self-conscious about it, but I don't want to use it as an excuse. Really the most frustrating part now is that I can't drive yet, and all my friends are getting to."
Although she can only see half of the court, Lemons adjusts by quickly moving her head from side to side to scan the area where her blind spot is. She also wears glasses for every match and practice to prevent getting poked or hit in her left eye and protect her remaining vision.
"When she first came to me, I had no clue about her eye," Soddy-Daisy coach Libby Peigen said. "When you see her slide and track the ball, something you need both eyes to do, she looks so fluid and natural that you'd never know she had a disability.
"I started watching to see if there were things she couldn't do, but there wasn't anything. She never complains. She's very consistent, and by about halfway through her first year I had forgotten about her disability. The way she's adjusted, to be able to do everything she does, is really incredible."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.