Home » Sports » The bigger battle

The bigger battle

Although disappointment ended Alaina Abel’s senior season at Bay Port, it pales in comparison to what the Loyola-Chicago standout is currently going through. Submitted photo

By Rich Palzewic

Contributing Writer

SUAMICO – There are bigger battles in life than playing sports.

Perhaps no one knows that better than former Bay Port basketball and soccer star Alaina Abel.

As a member of the Pirates, Abel helped her team win WIAA Division 1 state titles in soccer in 2018 and basketball in 2019.

During Abel’s senior year in 2020, Bay Port never got the chance to defend its basketball state title or win another soccer championship because the COVID-19 pandemic shut the door on Wisconsin high school sports.

“That was a tough time for us seniors,” Abel said. “I was fortunate enough to win two state titles, but we left wondering what could have been.”

Playing from her defense position, Abel helped the Ramblers record five shutouts in 2022 and allow less than a goal per game on average. Steve Woltmann photo

The Pirates made the 2020 basketball state tournament, but the night before the team was scheduled to play its semifinal matchup against Divine Savior Holy Angels, the WIAA canceled the tournament.

Spring high school sports also never got going that season – thus robbing Bay Port of the opportunity to win another soccer state title.

Pales in comparison

Although disappointment ended Abel’s senior season at Bay Port, it pales in comparison to what the Loyola-Chicago standout is currently going through.

When Abel was in middle school, she was diagnosed with alopecia areata – an autoimmune disease where one’s body mistakenly attacks your hair follicles.

Its cause is unknown, but it’s an uncontrollable process that affects each individual differently.

“In middle school, I found my first hair loss patch,” Abel said. “I went to the dermatologist, and they diagnosed me with alopecia areata. Throughout middle school, it always grew back. Even in high school, it was only a quarter-sized patch here and there, but it always grew back.”

Abel said things changed a bit when she got to Loyola – a Division I school north of the downtown area – in the fall of 2020.

“The thing with autoimmune diseases, there’s usually not only one specific reason why it happens,” she said. “In my case, there’s probably a lot of different explanations – maybe being away from home, the stress of college and an injury that occurred in December of last year.”

Abel hasn’t been able to do much regarding soccer activities because she tore the posterior cruciate ligament in her knee.

“I’m feeling much better (with my knee),” she said. “I’d say I’m about 95% – I started non-contact work again.”

Add the stresses up, and Abel said late last year, she noticed a big change in her hair.

“About four months ago, I went to a dermatologist again,” she said. “I got put back on a cream, and I was doing that once or twice a day – rubbing it on the (bare) spots. Typically, when I’d do that in the past, I saw regrowth in about eight weeks. With my latest episode, I haven’t seen any regrowth – that’s when I knew something was up.”

Emotionally, Abel said that was “extremely hard.”

“For sure,” she said. “It was an emotional rollercoaster getting past those first two months when I knew it was a reality.”

Abel said the next step in her journey – shaving her head – was a long time coming.

“It was a difficult decision,” she said. “I went on vacation for spring break – which was fun – but it was also hard. I wore my hair up the entire time and wore a thick headband – it emotionally got to be too much. I had been hiding my hair loss for years, and that was exhausting mentally.”

When Abel got back to campus after her trip, she made her decision.

“I said to myself, ‘I need to take a stand and not let this autoimmune disease control me, and I need to take control of what’s going on,’” she said. “The stress took me to a deep dark valley. I ended up going back on my anti-depressants because it took such an emotional toll on me.”

March 31, will be a day Abel said she’ll long remember.

“That day, the population lost a ginger,” she said. “It’s emotional losing your hair, especially when society puts so much pressure and reward on what you look like. During it, I was confident and had no regrets. I had thought about it so much prior that I was ready to get it off at that point.”

Abel said the ride back home to her parent’s house after the appointment was “liberating.”

“It was so freeing,” she said. “I thought I’d be emotional during the appointment and after, but it was a relief – it was a happy ride home. Since I’ve shaved my head, I’ve been much happier and have more internal peace. I think autoimmune diseases correlate a lot with mental illnesses because they are invisible to those outside your immediate circle. It was quite a shock to my team telling them how much hair I’d lost because I hid it so well.”

In a recent Facebook post, Abel said “It’s not out of the ordinary to see a female athlete with a ponytail and a headband every day.”

“After I got my head shaved, I returned to campus the next day because we had soccer practice,” she said. “My teammates have been nothing short of amazing and have been showering me with love and attention the past few weeks.(Loyola) Coach Barry (Bimbi) was wearing his hat at practice, and at the end of practice, he took his hat off, and he had gone bald as well.”

To help with the loss of her hair, Abel said her teammates went a step further.

“They set up a GoFundMe page and helped me purchase a wig,” she said. “I showed up to practice with it on and everyone was commenting how amazing it looked.”

Abel said she’s taking everything in stride.

“I’m hoping one day I will have a full head of hair again, but if not, then that’s something I have accepted, too,” Abel said on Facebook.

Wigs for Kids

Lying in bed one night, an emotional Abel said she thought of another idea.

“My motto in life has been, ‘If you can’t control or change what’s going on, how can you use it to change the world or better your position in terms of helping others?,’” she said.

That led Abel to look at how she could help those in need.

“After doing some research, I thought, ‘How cool would it be to use my story to give back to kids going through something similar?’” she said. “Wigs are expensive – I didn’t think they’d cost that much.”

Abel then set up a fundraiser through Venmo for donations to “Wigs for Kids,” with 100% of the monies raised going directly to the organization.

“So far, we’re up to about $5,000 raised – let’s keep going,” she said.

If interested in donating, please visit Venmo and search Wigs4Kids-Alaina.

Let’s talk soccer

Abel’s stellar soccer career hasn’t stopped since she left Bay Port.

After being named the Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year and second-team all-conference her first season at Loyola, Abel followed that up with another second-team all-conference selection her sophomore year – where she started 18 games and played in all but 50 minutes of game action.

“We’re excited,” Abel said. “After playing in the MVC during my first two years, we stepped into the Atlantic 10 Conference. It was a big adjustment because most of the teams are on the East Coast, so we had to fly instead of bussing to games. It’s been a learning curve, but because we have this first season under our belt, we’re excited to do some damage. We have a lot of talented freshmen coming in.”

Playing from her defense position, Abel helped the Ramblers record five shutouts in 2022 and allow less than a goal per game on average.

During her three-year career, Abel has started 49 of the 50 games she’s appeared in and has one assist to her name.

“That’s my one college stat,” she laughed.

Bay Port days

Abel said she still reminisces about her days in a Pirate uniform – maybe a little too much.

“We probably reminisce too much because we missed out on our senior soccer season,” she said. “I have a group chat with (former Bay Port players) Emma (Nagel), McKenzie (Johnson) and Raegan (McIntyre) – there are some good memories. We’d like to think we could have won two more state championships if it wasn’t for COVID, but we are thankful for what we have.”

Facebook Comments
Scroll to Top