The bite of an infected tick cut short Kaylen Baker's basketball prospects, but the Yukon High School senior is enjoying newfound glory as a competitor showing livestock.
The two-time president of the district's FFA program came into the Oklahoma Youth Expo at State Fair Park fresh off a first-place win at the organization's national convention, and already she's got her eyes set on a new prize — a chance to enter Monday night's Sale of Champions.
But just five years ago, raising, grooming and showing pigs was the last thing on the young woman's mind.
A self-proclaimed city-girl by nature, Baker was a cheerleader and a starter on the middle school's undefeated basketball team when she collapsed in pain midway through a game.
It was an unexplainable pain that would persist.
She was experiencing crippling pain in her legs and using a wheelchair to get around. Doctors locally and nationally were unable to diagnose the source of Baker's problem. It wasn't until three years later, when a fellow fan at her brother's basketball game witnessed her condition, that she finally figured it out: It was Lyme disease, and it was ruining her life.
Lyme disease is a tick-borne bacterial infection that is common in North America but very rare in Oklahoma.
While there were more than 250,000 reported infections nationwide in the past decade, there were only eight reported here during that same time period, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
It can cause itching, chills, fever, headache, muscle pain and stiff neck, and untreated it can affect the brain, heart, joints, and the speech of its carrier.
The bacteria had festered in Baker for at least a year before she fell onto the floorboards.
Competitive and social by nature, she said the pain of missing out on her early teenage years was nearly as crippling as the disease. It was hard to read about her former basketball team's triumphs in the newspaper, or to watch her friends stay after school for cheerleader tryouts while she went home.
“It was really tough because that was my love and it was taken away from me,” she said.
Giving it a try
But there was another love hidden in there, yet to be realized. When the high school FFA adviser and a member of Baker's church congregation, Tim Herren, pitched the idea of joining the organization, it didn't take much persuading for her to sign up.
“When I was enrolling in high school, since I could no longer play sports I needed an elective,” she said. “I decided to give ag a try. If I would not have gotten sick I would not be here and I would not be the person I am today.”