Sink or swim: One boy’s fight against cancer

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VERMILLION COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) – Imagine finding out at the age of 7, cancer would take away mobility in one of your legs.

It’s tough to wrap your head around. But for one Wabash Valley teen, that obstacle not only didn’t hold him back but he’s used it to make a splash on a national stage.

In the water he glides like a fish.

Sam McCarter could be your average high school swimmer. However, he’s fresh off competing in a national swim championship at The Can-Am Games in Florida.

“I remember after my 100 breasts turning around and seeing on the first one was a 1:32:01 and that was just like crazy because the day before in practice I was swimming 1:48s,” McCarter said.

If you’re not familiar with The Can Am games it’s OK. They are for Paralympic athletes like Sam.

“You don’t really know what to think when your 7 you’re just like, ‘what’s cancer?’” he said.

“(His) tumor went from about 20 centimeters above his kneecap all the way up into his hip,” his mother Mary McCarty said.

Mary McCarty was faced with a tough decision. She allowed his doctor to perform what at the time was only the 7th surgery of its kind in the world.

“They took out the bad part of his femur more or less amputated it and then they stuck in metal prosthetics, and built a leg for him out of titanium,” she said.

“I went in being able to walk and feeling normal and I came out feeling completely different and not being able to move my leg or move my toes or feel my leg. It just felt completely different,” Sam said.

The doctor’s plan to get Sam back on his feet, brought Sam to the pool. The rehabilitation used swimming to get strength back in his legs.

“I was afraid I was gonna sink whenever I first started swimming because I mean you have a big rod in your leg and you’re like this might weigh me down,” he said.

That’s where this story turns from learning to use a new leg to turning that rehab into a competition.

“We put him on the swim team, he just kind of took off and granted he never ended up getting first place but he had fun and he found it challenging and he loved to race he’s very competitive,” his mother explained.

Sam is now a sophomore at Terre Haute North High School, competing year round and putting his best stroke forward; the breast stroke to be exact. It is the stoke he displayed at the Can Am Games this year.

“(He got) 3rd place in the 50 breast, 5th place in the 100 breast and then 2nd place in the 200 breast,” his mother said beaming.

Sam has taken a disability and turned it into a world class skill bringing a new meaning to the phrase: sink or swim. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you confirm your email address and acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Commenters who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. Please be respectful of the opinions of others and keep the conversation on topic and civil. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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