SPRINGVIEW — Zak Palmer has faced every foe he has come up against throughout his high school career at Keya Paha County High School and the North Central Knight cooperative.
But the latest one is different.
After competing at the state track meet in late May, the Knight junior said he felt a bit under the weather.
“He wasn’t feeling well when we got home from Omaha,” said Bruce Palmer, Zak’s dad. “We thought he had a sinus infection or something, but he saddled his horse on Sunday after state track and helped around the ranch.”
He felt poorly enough, though, to see his family physician. That visit led to him being sent to Sioux Falls for another appointment — without a lot of explanation.
“We weren’t sure why they sent us on to Sioux Falls,” Bruce said. “After a few tests, we got the word.”
The diagnosis was that Zak had leukemia despite just days before being able to place third with a best effort of 44-feet-.75-inches at the state track meet in the triple jump.
He has also been a three-year qualifier for state wrestling — qualifying at 113 pounds as a freshman, 120 as a sophomore and 126 this past season.
He was also a main cog in the Knight run in the Class D1 football playoffs last fall, which literally ended a yard away from a trip to Memorial Stadium, losing to Burwell in the semifinals, 23-22.
With all those achievements, there’s no question that this young man is tough.
But all of those athletic achievements have nothing to do with the battle he is facing today.
“We are a very spiritual family,” Bruce said. “My wife (Julie) and I gave our children to the Lord when they were born — this battle is in his hands now.”
Technically, Zak has been diagnosed with acute, myelogenous leukemia. His first round of treatments were finished on June 23, and the family is anxious for the results of those treatments.
“He has a lot of sores in his mouth from treatments and is taking protein supplements to keep him strong,” Bruce said. “So many people have been so supportive. We want to keep the word out there what is going on — we’re generally not the type of family to draw attention to ourselves.”
The sores were so bad for a time that he wasn’t able to eat and wasn’t even allowed to talk for several days. He later had to deal with a bout of pneumonia, too.
Like it or not, Zak draws attention because of the type of young man he is.
“Zak is a great kid,” said former Rock County principal Steve Camp. “Your heart goes out to the family, but if anyone can beat these odds, it would be Zak — he’s a gamer.”
Bruce sees a bit of a silver lining to the entire situation.
“I haven’t been away from the ranch for this long since I’ve been there,” Bruce said. “But this is a time it is necessary.”
The silver lining is some of the Palmers’ other kids have been running the ranch in the absence of mom and dad — and with support of Zak’s teammates, friends and community.
Older brother Justin, who is 22, came back to the ranch to assist with calving and branding while the family was in Sioux Falls. In fact, the entire family has rallied to help Zak and help the parents be there for their younger sibling.
“It really is great how the family comes together and the community comes together,” Bruce said. “It makes you feel great about where you live — our communities have been so supportive and we’ll keep battling this until the end.”
Zak has a history of hard work and leaving everything on the playing field — it seems this battle will be no different.
His father had some advice for his son recently.
“I told him it was his battle to fight,” Bruce said. “I told him I will help in anyway I can, but the battle is his and the Lord’s.”