Althoff junior Gabby Orlet wins national courage award

Althoff Catholic High School junior Gabby Orlet, a three-sport athlete, has won the Jersey Mike’s Naismith High School Basketball Courage Award. Orlet is battling bone cancer but vows to overcome it. “You’ve got to attack it head-on,” she said (David Wilhelm photo).

Gabby Orlet can be excused for not immediately being aware of the magnitude of the Jersey Mike’s Naismith High School Basketball Courage Award.

After all, the award has only been around since 2020.

Orlet, a junior at Althoff Catholic High School in Belleville, has done her homework since winning the award in early March — one of only two recipients in the country along with Aidan Goldstein of WISH Academy High in Los Angeles.

“Since I’ve won, I’ve watched a lot of (videos) of other kids that have won in the past,” Orlet said. “It’s very exciting to know I’m a part of that now. Hopefully, kids can watch those and look up to me like I look up to those people.

“Knowing this is a nation-wide thing … I’m very grateful. It’s a huge honor to know I’m a part of this.”

The award recognizes high school basketball players who consistently go above and beyond in the face of adversity. Orlet, 17, is battling Giant Cell Tumor of the Bone, a rare condition that affects one in about 1 million people each year, usually young adults.

Orlet was diagnosed with a tumor in her spine in April 2021, which led to two surgeries. The cancer eventually spread to her lungs, and Orlet receives chemotherapy treatments once every month.

The three-sport standout also plays volleyball, her favorite sport, in addition to basketball and soccer.

With such a deep background in competition, Orlet knows all about what it takes to succeed. She has been a battler in athletics throughout her young life and now is employing that same tactic as she engages a different kind of struggle.

“To be able to get up every day, even when you’re going through things, is definitely tough. But it’s something that’s very important to do,” said Orlet, the daughter of Jim and Lisa Orlet. “This is incurable right now, but I’m fighting and I’m going to get through it. I have full faith that I’ll be back on the field and back on the court in no time. I’m working to get back out there and excited to see what comes.”

Gabby Orlet was nominated for the award by Kathy Wuller, the athletics director at Althoff. Orlet was among 10 finalists for the award among hundreds who were nominated.

Orlet’s honor was celebrated at the Crusaders’ season-opening soccer game March 11.

“It was incredible,” Orlet said of the large turnout. “All the support was more than I could have asked for. It was exciting to see all the people that came out. It showed me the importance of showing up for people when they’re going through hard things. That’s a mistake I’ll never make again. I’ll always be there for people when anything’s going on — small or big.”

Althoff girls soccer coach Skip Birdsong marvels at Orlet’s determination to overcome the most stubborn foe she’s ever faced.

“I’ve coached a lot of kids through the years and have seen kids put themselves through some pretty rough things,” Birdsong said. “But never have I met someone that’s gone through the stuff that she’s gone through and kept the attitude that she has. She’s super positive. Every once in a while, which you would expect, she has a moment that’s sort of like, ‘Why?’ But it lasts for a very short time and she goes right back to, ‘It doesn’t matter why. This is what I’ve got to do.’

“She’s truly amazing.”

Crusaders girls basketball coach Bruce Romine shares Birdsong’s awe for Orlet’s spirit and drive.

“There were days she had chemo and couldn’t be (at practice), but the day after, I was shocked a couple of times that she was there,” Romine said. “I can’t believe what a competitor she is. We were playing Father McGivney at our place and we were down by 12 at halftime, something like that. She came in (the game) in the third quarter and scored six straight points and got us rolling. We ended up winning that game.

“She’s an example to all of us.”

Although Orlet’s road to recovery figures to be challenging, with emotional swings along the way, one thing will remain the same: Orlet won’t buckle.

“I wasn’t raised like that,” she said. “My parents taught me to never give up. Even when it’s hard, it’s important to push through things. I’m not going to let this beat me and I’m not going to let this be the reason I don’t succeed in life.

“It would be easy to make a lot of excuses, but I don’t want that to be my story. I want people to know I fought. Even if I don’t make it where I want to, I know that I’ll be known as a fighter and that I fought through all these terrible things. I know that I’ll win. It’s rough right now and I don’t know when that day will come, but every day is a new day and you’ve got to attack it head-on.”