row2k Features
Navy's Alex Lizotte
January 26, 2011
Erik Dresser,

Lizotte's (far left) first race back following the events of his summer

row2k kicks off our spring collegiate preview with the story of Navy sophomore Alex Lizotte. Lizotte was diagnosed with cancer during race season last spring, and has not only made a full recovery but raced in Navy's Varsity 8+ this fall.

row2k - Why did you decide to attend the Naval Academy and what was your athletic background in high school?
Alex Lizotte - I wanted to attend the Naval Academy ever since I was young. Growing up I always heard stories of the experiences of my grandfather Donald and my father Alan as enlisted sailors in the Navy. Stories of the ships they served on, the people they had served with and the places they were able to visit. The way they held themselves in the family was something I always admired and the respect I had for them when I was old enough to understand what they did by serving made me want to follow in their footsteps. My father would always tell me that he wanted me to become an officer and it was at that point I knew the Academy would be the best option for me. I grew up with discipline and structure and the Academy offered all of that and more as well as a chance for me to become a Naval Officer.

Throughout my high school career at Saint John’s High School in Shrewsbury I participated in quite a few sports. My freshmen year I rowed both fall and spring, and in the winter I played hockey. When I was a sophomore I decided to change it up and I took the year off from rowing. I ran cross country in the fall, played hockey in the winter and participated in track and field in the spring. As a junior at Saint John’s in the fall I again ran cross country, then participated in indoor track as well as played hockey for a local team. It was at that point that I realized I missed being out on the water and that spring I went out for the crew team and made the cut. As for my senior year I wrestled in the winter and rowed both fall and spring seasons and my passion for rowing grew.

row2k - You had some major health problems come up during race season of your freshmen year, what happened and when did you start to think something may be wrong?
Alex Lizotte - During the spring of my freshmen year at the U. S. Naval Academy two weeks before racing Harvard I felt a lump on my left testicle. Not sure of what it was I didn’t really pay much attention to it because the only thing I could think about was racing. The day before the race we arrived in Boston and as we set up boats I approached a friend of mine on the team Matt Fluhr about what I had found and that I wanted to race and didn’t want to let the team down by leaving before the race, he told me to get it checked out as soon as possible. That night, the 23rd of April, I was on the phone in the hotel room, as always the night before the race to talk to my mom in order to get any pre-race nerves out. I mentioned that I had found a lump two weeks prior to the race. She immediately said she would set up an appointment and I told her the only way I was going to the hospital was under one condition, which was after the race was over.

We raced Harvard on the 24th and the very next morning I was sitting in the ER waiting on test results. While in the emergency room at UMASS I still didn’t have any feelings of being concerned, I was directed to blood work and an ultrasound. To be honest when something is wrong with your private areas it always makes things awkward which is why I just kept saying to myself it wasn’t a big deal and I probably just crushed myself while rowing. Upon being escorted back to the waiting room after the conclusion of the ultrasound the Doctor said he would be back in a minute. That minute turned into thirty and when he came in he and his assistant both had blank expressions on their faces. The Doctor said to me “I’m so sorry I thought it was post traumatic” then proceeded to tell me that I had a tumor on my testicle and that the veins had grown into the mass, and through the markers in the blood work it was clear that I had cancer.

That afternoon I was expected back at the Naval Academy, with this news in the back of my mind I had a very quiet flight back, I never felt so alone in my life. Upon my arrival to the campus I went to the boathouse and worked out for a very long time, I had to do something I had control over and working out was something I could control. I worked out so long it was dark when I finally left to go back to my room for the night. Unable to sleep through the night, I waited until the clinic at the academy opened up at 6:00am the next morning and I made my appointment. Then things began to happen very quickly, I arrived at the National Naval Medical Center on that same day on April 26th and the surgery was scheduled for the next morning to remove the cancerous testicle. That night I realized the hospital is not a place for sleep and I was run through a battery of tests chest x-rays, more blood work and CT scans in preparation for the morning. The only thing I remember thinking is being back on the water with my team working hard, I always knew people got sick, but I was performing in the top boat on the Novice team my freshmen year of college and I was taken out just like that.

That night I met another midshipmen who was diagnosed two weeks prior to myself whose cancer had been much more progressed, his name is Blake Lusty. Blake and I spoke that night and became very close over the summer helping each other through treatment after treatment, encouraging one another to push through and laughing whenever we could. The next day was my first surgery, after the first surgery was a success I had some decisions to make as far as treatment. Right when I thought it was all over my feet were taken out from under me. I could go into observation through appointments once a month for five years which for me was not an option because knowing something could still be growing in my body was a very uncomfortable feeling. The second option was chemotherapy, which was also not an option because chemo breaks down the body and to be a collegiate athlete I could not take the chance of not rowing again. So that left one option open which was a major surgery called an RPLND. The date was set for May 26th; the night was spent prepping for the following day’s surgery where they would cut me from my sternum to my groin through the abdominal muscle and push my organs to the side in order to collect lymph nodes from the back of my abdomen. I remember coming to from the eight hour surgery and feeling like I had been hit by a train. I have never felt such pain in my life even with the pain medication it was intense.

row2k - What was the worst part of the treatment and recovery?
Alex Lizotte - It was during the recovery that I would say was the worst part of the whole experience. During the surgery my pancreas, a very delicate organ described as a grapevine, began secreting digestive enzymes into my abdomen and I had a drain which was set at the bottom of my abdomen to drain the fluid. It was then that I learned I could not eat food or even drink water in order to allow the pancreas to heal. For fourteen days I starved living on IV fluids; sugar and salt water, the nurses and I would joke and call it Gatorade in a bag. Unable to keep a feeding tube down due to throwing up two the IV was all I had and I lost 46 pounds. This was the most frustrating part because my body became weak and I could barely walk without assistance and if I couldn’t eat I couldn’t heal in order to get back in a boat.

row2k - When did you decide you wanted to continue rowing?
Alex Lizotte - Throughout my stay at the hospital I followed my team getting updates on boat lineups from week to week from my coach and teammates. There were days that were very depressing and knowing my teammates were working hard I couldn’t let them down, especially with the support they had given me, they became as close to me as brothers and that gave me the strength to carry on. My most memorable visit is when one of my best friends on the team, Gabe Charette, came into the hospital after my first few days without eating. Standing 6’6”, with the build of a college football player he always had a way of making me laugh on the tough days. That day Gabe told me that I would get back in a boat in no time and to continue fighting. I knew that I wanted to get better to get back in a boat, quitting on the people who were there for me in my time of need had never been an option. I was willing to do whatever it took to be on the water with my brothers, working hard.

row2k - How has this season gone and what are your goals for the spring?
Alex Lizotte - This season has gone well so far, I worked hard over the summer after I was checked out of the hospital and began lifting small weights in order to put weight back on and help my body recover, it may or may not have been with the doctors permission, but I’m not at liberty to say. When the first fall crew practice of this year showed up I had no intentions of skipping the workout. In the fall I fought for a spot on the first varsity boat and rowed in the bow seat. My goals for the spring are to work even harder in order to earn a spot in the top boat and to race in the Eastern sprints and IRA’s which I listened to results on the phone while lying in a hospital bed one year prior.

row2k - You're planning a fundraiser now, can tell us a little bit about that?
Alex Lizotte - Currently I have joined up with the 15-40 Connection, a group that spreads cancer awareness and self advocacy, which is how I caught my cancer so early. My goal is to sometime in the near future hold an erg-athon in order to raise awareness to the younger population. I am a big believer through personal experience that people fear what they do not understand. If showing what cancer treatment is all about to everyone to allow people to understand, then tough love is what it may take for people to become self aware and learn how to advocate for their own health. Cancer is a scary thing but it is a part of life and something that happens to people every day and to understand it allows us to build awareness and battle this horrible disease in its earlier curable stages.

row2k - What do you like most about the sport of rowing?
Alex Lizotte - What I like most about the sport of rowing is the team bond and atmosphere. Nowhere else can you find a group of people who push themselves in order to beat the guy next to them and work their body to the bone in order to do so. I have tremendous amounts of respect for my teammates and the bond we have created is through our hard work and desire to win. Waking up at five in the morning to get on the water sounds crazy, but when the sun comes up and warms us as we grind out piece after piece you know you’re alive and I would not give up that feeling for the world. Rowing has taught me many lessons about life and myself. Those lessons begin with never giving up no matter how bad it may be. Push through and finish everything with the best of your ability. It has also taught me that the human body is an amazing thing, when you think you are tired you can look to the guy in front and behind you on the boat pushing harder and breaking barriers. These life lessons helped while I was in the hospital recovering from my treatment, knowing I would be back on a boat again got me through each day and gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

row2k - What are you studying and do you have any plans for after graduation?
Alex Lizotte - At the Academy I’m an English major, which does not affect what I will service select. Service selection is what job I will pick when I get my commission as an officer. What I would like to pick in terms of service selection I have not yet decided, but I am looking into SEAL’s which is the Navy’s special warfare community as well as the Marine Corps due to the structure and discipline of the communities. In both of those communities in the military there is a lot of camaraderie which translates directly for me in everything I learn at the boat house day in and day out.

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Log in to comment
02/03/2011  8:00:52 PM
Alex-I'm 70 yrs. old. Row a single & sat in the bow seat for 2 yrs. Started rowing at age 48. I beat a malignant melanma in 1987, I have CLL(chronic lympohcytic leukemia (2007)"Stage Zero, & this past August; I had a stroke. I call all of it"bumps in the road of life"-deal with it & move ahead.Every thing happens for a reason! When I'm not in a boat; I'm out competing as a race walker-Half & Full Marathons. I wish the best for you & my gut feeling is that you will overcome all odds. Fred Pheiffer

02/02/2011  8:24:19 AM
Alex, tremendous story. I am so happy that you are doing well. I am very proud of you. You are an inspiration. Keep it up and please keep in touch. Coach Ermilio Saint John's Crew

02/01/2011  2:11:26 PM
You're one of the toughest men I have the pleasure to know man! I'm honored to grow up beside you. Can't wait to see you next vacation man and see you rowing at the Sprints! Keep it up man!!!! -Kyle

01/27/2011  10:42:16 PM
One of Hubbard's Finest...

01/26/2011  6:35:55 PM
you da man lizotte

01/26/2011  3:54:30 PM
Alex, We hope that all is going well for you at the Academy, and with crew. You are missing another huge snowstorm in Mass! Take care of yourself. Go Navy! Anne & John Hicks

Wendy Schonborg
01/26/2011  1:38:36 PM
Alex, you are an amazing cousin with an amazing story. You are such my are full of so much strength and courage and deffinately a FIGHTER. You make me SO proud. I cannot wait to give you a HUGE hug when you come home again and I BETTER SEE YOU. I love you so much cuz XOXOXO!!! Wendy :)

01/26/2011  11:14:26 AM
Inspiring story. Best of luck to you this coming spring season!

- SHS '09 grad, fellow EARC rower

01/26/2011  11:04:28 AM
I'm really proud of you Alex. Keep up the great work you do. God has a special plan just for you. He's not done with you by a long shot. Your "cuzin' Dan Leone

01/26/2011  7:49:37 AM
Buddy, Great job! God has put you in a unique position to inspire many. I love you. Dad

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