Hudson Valley Names and Games: West Point grad Pizza keeps on fighting
May 26, 2007
Celeste Pizza is a fighter. That’s the first thing you realize when you speak to her. She’s tough.
Pizza went from Marlboro High to West Point without a worry. She thrived in the classroom. She was a terrific track and field athlete, a pentathlete, at the Academy. One day in January 2006, in Army’s first indoor meet of the season, Pizza leaped from the long jump board and broke three metatarsals in her right foot.
The pain never went away. By last May, Pizza’s doctors suspected the injury was something worse. A specialist at Walter Reed confirmed the diagnosis in September.
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. It’s a painful nerve condition that can basically end a person’s physical activity.
But Pizza was entering her senior year in September. She had spent three years gearing for graduation and the corresponding five-year military commitment. Prescription medicine, physical therapy, more intense drugs — nothing worked for her foot. She walked with a limp, so there was no passing the physical aptitude test needed to graduate and be commissioned.
Pizza’s cumulative GPA is around 3.5. She got a 3.95 despite missing much school time the semester she got hurt. Now she wasn’t sure if she was going to get her degree.
But Pizza remained strong and hopeful — brave, really. “She’s tough,” her dad, Nick, said. “I would have folded. Most people would.”
You have to understand: After what these kids go through, the mental and physical pain on a daily basis, not graduating after four years is devastating.
Pizza waited for word from the Academy. Finally, less than 72 hours before today’s ceremony, she got official word that she would be allowed to graduate.
The commission is out, at least for now. Pizza will continue with different medical treatments. She’s talked to people who have recovered from CRPS, and those who haven’t. If she doesn’t respond to treatments, she likely will get a medical discharge.
Pizza would seem to have gotten a huge break by staying out of Iraq. But she also must live with constant, sometimes excruciating, pain. She can’t put weight on the bottom of her foot. She’s hypersensitive to touch or water hitting the foot, quite a pain in the shower. The catch is that if you stop using the affected area, it gets worse. So Pizza grimaces through therapy and fights on.
“It’s really hard, not even speaking about track,” she said. “But it’s hard not being as physical as I was. I’m pretty limited in what I can do physically. But I haven’t exhausted all the medical possibilities.”
Everything is on hold for now. Pizza, a language major, can’t pursue a job because of her medical needs and military uncertainty. Her future is as uncertain as ever. But she gets her diploma today.
She gets to walk on stage and smile through her limp.
Kevin Gleason’s column appears weekly. He can be reached at 346-3193, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.