Beating Cancer and Serving Aces – Steven Danna’s Inspirational Story

Waukee Senior Steven Danna is a tennis player with the mind of an athlete.

“You just have to believe in yourself, anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” says Danna.

That belief was put to the test recently, not by opponent on the tennis court, but by some pain in his knee.

“I didn’t really tell my coaches, which in hindsight wasn’t the best,” says Danna.  “But I wanted to keep playing, and keep putting on for my team.”

Toward the end of his sophomore season (Spring of 2019), Steven wanted to keep playing, but he knew it was time.

“Finally we decided to go to a sports scientist to see what was wrong with it,” says Danna.

The news wasn’t good.

“He finally sent me to get an MRI and x-rays and sent it off to Iowa City,” Danna said. “They confirmed it was bone cancer.” 

The diagnosis sent shockwaves through the sophomore because life was going to change

“I was supposed to be playing in a tennis tournament the day I found out,” says Danna. “My parents sat me down and told me. I didn’t know what to say, I just got up and left to be honest.”

And who could really blame him? 

“I was nervous, worried, terrified,” he said. “I knew I really had to grow up and had to become a much different person than I was previously.”

That’s when the next steps started with some incredibly difficult procedures on the horizon.

“It was a bone tumor in my right knee. They ended up having to totally take out my knee, my tibia and then part of my femur up top too, so all of that is now metal,” says Danna.

The great news in this story is that Steven’s surgery went well.  He’s now a cancer survivor. He also has a new way to describe his leg, bionic.

“It’s pretty crazy to see the x-rays and see whats really in there,” says Danna. “I’m shocked to see that they can even do that to a person. I thought I was going to have to get it all cut off, I was so lucky to keep my whole leg.”

The surgery went well. His tumor was removed, but that was only the start. During the quarantine months of 2020, Steven’s junior year, he started to casually play tennis. No matches, no competition. Just a racquet and a ball.

“I finally got out with some buddies and hit some tennis balls and I was like wow I really miss it,” he said.

So Steven had a conversation with Waukee Head Coach Eric Wetzel. He probably wasn’t going to be on the team, but he wanted to be a part of the team.

“My therapist, my parents and I really thought it might be smarter to not play and just rest my knee because it has been getting super swollen,” Danna said.

His team knew they might not have him during matches so they designed their 2021 jerseys with his initials. Just so knew Steven always knew he was with them.

Fast forward to the start of the spring season. Steven is around the team, not officially on the team, until a pretty special conversation.

“I was meeting with my therapist and he was like your knee is looking good, what are you doing different?” Danna says. “I told him I’m not doing anything different, I think it’s just getting used to the activity.” So here comes

After the therapist gave him the green light, Steven, a senior tennis star, was ready to go. His return to the court had everyone amazed.

“The vibe was so positive and hopeful,” says Waukee Head Coach Eric Wetzel. “You never got the sense that this wasn’t going to work out for him, you always knew Steven was going to beat this thing.”

That was all the team needed to hear. Steven was back out playing singles matches for Waukee, but that wasn’t everything he wanted to do.

“I was like coach, I can totally play doubles,” says Danna. “Once that happened I got put with Will, and it’s just been perfect.”

His doubles partner Will Ecklund was one of the first people to see that Steven’s officially back and he’s still really good.

“In our last match, I even remember hearing the other coach go out and say hit it to Steven on the next ball, let’s see what he can and cant do,” says Ecklund.  “Steven won every single point, just putting everything away. The other coach went over right away and switched the game plan.”

From winning points, to beating cancer, Steven’s back hand and his bionic leg are creating incredible life lessons for everyone in the Waukee program.

“It’s just a tennis match, if we cant fight through it and he can fight through all the stuff he’s had to go through, thats just bad on our part,” says Ecklund. “If we all look at that and take some of it from him, there’s no way we will be counted out in a match.”

Steven’s legacy will be impacted by Waukee’s success on the court this season but more than that, he’s an inspiration.  A high school senior who beat osteosarcoma, giving thanks to his team, both on the tennis court and in life.

“I’m just super grateful to be here giving this interview,” Danna said. “Once I’m out there and putting up the scores I do, it’s just like I was my freshman and sophomore year, you cant even tell anything happened to me. I might be tired here and there, a little slower, but I’m just being myself and you couldn’t tell a difference.” 

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