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Frazier senior Vargo 'the heart of team'

| Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Lori Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Frazier's Riley Vargo overcame a severe health issue at birth and is now playing for the Frazier girls basketball team.

For Frazier senior guard Riley Vargo, every step she takes on the basketball court is an important step and, in the lyrics by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne, she “won't back down.”

Vargo may not be the most prolific scorer in Lady Commodores basketball history and she may be far from the team's leading scorer this season. She may not be the heart of the Lady Commodores offense but, noted Frazier girls basketball coach Shara Zupanc, adding another perspective to Vargo's value to the team, “She is the heart of the team. Riley does have a nice mid-range shot, and she hit a big shot at the end of one game last year and the gym went wild.”

Continuing with her assessment, Zupanc, in her third season as Frazier's girls coach, added, “Riley is a hard worker and she picks up everyone on the bench. She knows her role and she is happy and proud to be part of the team. We have positivity on the team, but nobody like Riley. I've never heard her utter any complaint. She is sunshine and, no matter what, she is smiling. Riley is always pumping up the team and will say something quirky to make us laugh. She often takes younger girls under her wing and helps them adjust to varsity basketball. She has played a big part in helping the younger girls become acclimated to playing at the varsity level.”

What is especially important for Vargo is every step she takes, in games or practices, and while line drills may not be every basketball player's favorite, Vargo “won't back down.”

When she was born, doctors speculated that Vargo might never walk, let alone play varsity basketball. Born two months prematurely, Vargo weighed 4 pounds at birth and everything was fine her first two days, recalls her mother, Corinne Vargo.

However, Riley Vargo developed seizures, compounded by hemorrhaging on her brain, a condition Corinne Vargo, a nurse, said was referred to as intraventricular hemorrhaging. Because of the premature nature of her brain tissue, Riley developed stage four bleeding on the left side of her brain, stage three on the right, with stage four the worst.

When bleeding of that nature occurs, it diminishes or pulls on healthy brain tissues, Corinne Vargo continued. At that point doctors were perhaps less than cautiously optimistic, speculating that she would never walk and may be confined to a wheelchair her entire life. Doctors added that if Riley was not sitting up on her own at age 15 months, she may never walk.

Instead she refused “to back down.” She sat up on her own at age 12 months.

With every aspect of her development delayed about two months, Vargo developed right side weakness following a children's stroke, her mother noted. In intensive care for two weeks following birth, visiting nurses immediately attended to Vargo when she was released to go home for the first time. Physically and understandably, Vargo's first four years were trying times, but she progressed with the assistance of various types of physical and occupational therapy programs, which continued until age 14.

Ironically, visiting nurses encouraged the Vargos to use a surgical brush to massage Riley's infant body to produce a loosening and comforting effect, bringing about a noticeable improvement in her condition.

That “brush therapy” may have had underlying positive effects since Vargo aspires to be a massage therapist. She has been accepted at Pittsburgh Technological Institute for an 18-month program to study massage therapy, “to help people relax,” Riley Vargo said.

At the urging of her parents, Vargo began her basketball career in the local Perryopolis youth recreation program, where she also plays softball as a catcher/outfielder.

At Frazier, Vargo is involved with the Drama Club and considers her Communications Technology class her favorite subject, where she has been involved with computer-enhanced T-shirt design and making movies. Later this school year she will study psychology, which she is sure will be beneficial as a massage therapist.

“I will try anything, just like anyone else,” Vargo said. “This has not and does not hold me back. I just say to myself, ‘I will do this,' and I do it. I run with everyone else, and I'm still playing basketball. With all the running and stretching and exercises involved with basketball, it has been a type of therapy and has helped strengthen my legs. I consider myself a hard worker in basketball, and defense is the best part of my game. I want our team to be successful and contribute as much as possible.”

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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