Still part of the Team: Community helps Rifle High volleyball player battle bone cancer |

Still part of the Team: Community helps Rifle High volleyball player battle bone cancer

Jon Mitchell
Citizen Telegram Sports Editor
Rifle High School senior Amelie Zemlock, bottom, smiles as she's acknowledged by the crowd at Bears Stadium in Rifle in July during an adult exhibition football game between Rifle and Palisade. Zemlock's mom, Debbie, also reacts. Part of the proceeds from the game were donated to Amelia Zemlock, who is battling bone cancer in her left knee.
Jon Mitchell / The Citizen Telegram |

RIFLE — Amelia Zemlock is still on the varsity volleyball roster at Rifle High School.

The Rifle High senior is still cheering on her teammates and inspiring them, even if she can’t step foot on the volleyball court. That’s something she hopes to change soon.

“She wants to be on the court by the end of the season,” Bears coach Erin Reider said. “No matter how short that might be, that’s the goal.”

Zemlock has faced a long, exhaustive process for her to come close to this point. She’s battling osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that weakens the bone matrix most commonly in areas where bones grow quickly, according to the American Cancer Society. It’s most common in teenage boys, and the most common spot for it to occur is on the end of longer bones, such as the tibia or femur.

In Zemlock’s case, she developed osteosarcoma in her right knee. It initially seemed like more of a nuisance than a debilitating problem until the level of pain she was feeling became unbearable.

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“We’re a pretty rough-and-tumble family,” said Amelia’s mother, Debbie. “Typically, all of us are the kind of people who would have lumped this out. It’s a good thing we didn’t, though.”


Amelia Zemlock didn’t get a whole lot of playing time during her junior year at Rifle, when the 5-foot-7 setter and rightside hitter got in during October matches against Hotchkiss and Moffat County. Still, she was making progress on the court during spring volleyball workouts and was seeing a lot more court time.

She started to notice pain in her right knee, however, prior to a tournament the Bears were attending in Denver that was hosted by the South Metro Volleyball Club ­— an AAU club affiliate based in Castle Rock — in March. She fought through the pain that at first resembled shin splints until, on March 15, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma.

Doctors initially wanted to begin chemotherapy treatment two days later, but Zemlock wanted to play and participate in the tournament she’d worked so hard to play in. She did, and it wasn’t until March 24 of this year that her treatment began.


So far, Zemlock has undergone two of her three scheduled rounds of post-op treatments. The surgery to remove the tumor — which was located on the proximal tibia of the right leg — took place on June 25. Doctors removed the localized cancer that was growing inside her knee but not spreading, and it had grown to 12 1/2 centimeters in width by the time it had been removed. It had to be replaced with a titanium rod, which fit underneath her kneecap.

“It’s so hard to see your kid suffer, but this is one of those cases that’s pretty textbook,” Debbie Zemlock said.

The family has made trips to Denver every three weeks for chemotherapy treatments, and doctors are also working with Amelia for her to regain some kind of flexibility in her leg. It’s starting with simple steps, which include having her mom help her bend her knee and hold it in place so she can gradually regain some muscle memory.

“It’s just the first step in getting my muscles back to where they were,” Amelia said.


When news of Amelia Zemlock’s diagnosis was made public, there was an immediate response from family friends and the Rifle community.

Immediately upon returning from Denver in March following her initial chemotherapy treatment, community members had put together a spaghetti dinner feed and silent auction that, almost overnight, raised close to $22,000. That, however, was only a temporary fix.

“One bag of chemo is about $20,000,” Debbie Zemlock said. “Her surgery was more than $300,000. We’re way over the million-dollar mark now.”

The Zemlock family has insurance to help pay for the costs, but that didn’t stop help from coming. One example is the “Team Amelia” T-shirts, which began with a distribution of 200 before close to 2,000 were purchased. Another fund-raiser came on July 25 for the high school alumni football game played between Rifle an Palisade on July 25 at Bears Stadium, where proceeds from the tickets that were bought from the Rifle alumni players went toward Amelia Zemlock’s medical bills.


The third and final round of Amelia Zemlock’s treatment is scheduled for Oct. 17, and it’s a three-week process for the treatment to be completed. In the meantime, she’s scheduled to see a physical therapist soon so she can take the next step in her recovery process.

She makes it to games when she can, as her treatment regimen has drained her. Reider admits, though, that the Bears as a team become more inspired when they see her in the gym.

Right now, Zemlock’s teammates, along with Zemlock herself, hope she can join them on the court, also. She’s a little overwhelmed by the support she’s gotten, but it’s something she said she’ll always be thankful for.

After all, the way people have acted, it’s safe to say she’s still a part of one big team.

“I never would have thought that there would be so many people who would come together for just one person,” the Rifle High senior said. “You never thing that something like this is going to happen to you, so you never think you’re going to be the center of attention like this. It’s a lot to handle, but it feels really good. I can’t begin to express how thankful I am.”RIFLE

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