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The student news site of Wando High School

Tribal Tribune

The student news site of Wando High School

Tribal Tribune

The student news site of Wando High School

Tribal Tribune

Senior’s new normal after diagnosis

Gierhart defies illness to pursue equestrian dream
Tyler Graham Photography
After jumping over the last jump, Gierhart had completed her final race of her riding season. “Afterwards I was like ‘okay it’s done, I’m exicted to be done, but it was definitely a bittersweet moment,” Gierhart said.

The struggle of getting up in the morning and overcoming one’s tiredness in the main struggle for most high school students, but for senior Elise Gierhart, it’s the tightening grip of a headache. With each pulse of pain behind her eyes, she braces herself for another day’s battle with her chronic illness.

“Two years ago, I started having these bad migraines and it’s just it’s I’ve had a constant consistent migraine… it’s still kind of in the works, but what they diagnosed me with is new daily persistent headaches,” Elise said.

After being diagnosed with this chronic illness, Elise has had to adopt new methods to balance all of the extracurriculars she is a part of.

“Going into junior year, I was so busy and trying to cram pack my schedule and doing as much as I possibly could… [but] when the first MRI scan came out, [the doctors] were like, ‘no, you have to slow down for treatments to start working and to start healing’, so I kind of [had] to readjust my whole schedule,” Elise said.

These treatments included anywhere from seizure medications to injections, such as acupuncture. Yet, what has been the biggest aid to her illness, is her amazing support system.

“Having a strong support system and friends have been so helpful,” Elise said.

A very time-consuming and important part of Elise’s life is Wando’s yearbook, Legend, as one of the editors in chief. This is a major stressor for Elise because of the workload, but her ability to get through any bumps in the road has been encouraged by her co-editors and close friends. One of her co-editors, and best friend, senior Caroline Bierman, has seen Elise through it all.

“We’ve been best friends since kindergarten… we actually did horseback riding together in kindergarten, and then we were,[in] the same classes, and we [became] best friends,” Bierman said. “I was surprised at first [after learning about her diagnosis] because she kind of kept it very private and she’s very good at dealing with it on her own, so when she told us I was nervous for her, but I knew I knew she was doing everything she could.”

Being Elise’s supporter is something that Bierman sets as a major priority. Being her co-editor and best friend at the same time makes it a little easier to do that.

“Doing yearbook together has made us even closer if that was even possible, but I always try to be understanding because there are some things that are gonna take her a little bit longer and some things are gonna be a little bit harder for her. So it’s important to be understanding and try to not make her feel different, because she’s not. She’s the same person I’ve been best friends with since kindergarten,” Bierman said.

Seeing her friend overcome something as struggling as this, Bierman finds inspiration from Elise’s hard work and dedication.

“I was nervous that she was going to be dealing with a lot because she was taking a lot of hard classes, and she just had a lot going on so I was like, this is just another thing that she’s gonna have to deal with, but she has handled it very gracefully and it’s been very impressive to watch,” Bierman said.

Gierhart sits at the signing day table on April 17 listening to her coach talk about her as an athlete. “I was really happy to be there, it was a very full circle moment [and] I got to be there [with] my coach,” Gierhart said. Gierhart will join the horseback riding team at Sewanee. (Laine Edwards)
Another consuming part of Elise’s life was equestrian. She has been doing it since she was in kindergarten and is a very important part of her life. Being diagnosed with her illness, she was worried about what that might do to her riding ability.

“One of the side effects of one of my treatments was neuropathy in my hands and feet, so I wasn’t able to feel [them] and so for a while there, we were worried that it would have an effect with that, but being able to work with my doctors and be like, Okay, this is something I really want to be able to keep with, I was able to kind of change gears with treatment and be able to make sure that I am able to continue riding because it’s been a consistent thing I’ve been able to keep up with and keep going through this whole thing,” Elise said.

Another major supporter of Elise is her mom Margaret Gierhart. Margaret has seen Elise through all of her ups and downs and has been there to aid her through it all. Fear consumed Margaret after learning about her daughter’s migraine problems and her mind began to spiral at all of the possible explanations as to what they could be caused by.

“She had these uncontrollable headaches, so of course, my mind went in every direction. I worried about a brain tumor and a lot [of other] things, so it was definitely scary,” Margaret said.

From the time of her initial diagnosis up until now, Margaret has seen Elise grow and adjust to a new lifestyle regarding her illness.

“It’s really a lifestyle change. Once we’ve navigated what [the illness] is, how to treat it, and how to find her new normal. What she found works well for her and staying within those parameters of lifestyle change and medication intervention,” Margaret said.

Through many challenges and bumps in the road, Margaret beams with pride over her daughter’s strength and accomplishments.

“Seeing her determination through the fear of not knowing what it was and, once we’ve ruled out much scarier issues, like brain tumors or cancer, she overcame that,” Margaret said. “That’s a terrifying thing to hear as a teenager, the possibility of it being something much scarier. I’m just proud of how she’s calmly taken it all in and found her way and adjusted her lifestyle to be able to


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