Teammates of Morgan Twp. softball slugger LaToya Thomas marvel at the junior cleanup hitter's powerful swing.
They are equally impressed with her strength of character.
"She always keeps our heads up," Morgan Twp. junior Alyssa Dozier said of her teammate and friend Thomas. "She's so much fun to be around, even though I know that some things affect her a lot more."
Thomas has dealt with health issues most of her life, including her most recent battle with a newly-discovered kidney disease called "C1q Nephropathy."
"I will not let this define me," Thomas said of her malady. "I cannot belittle myself and allow people to take pity on me. I just take things day by day, and I'm getting better (at) accepting my situation."
Thomas has had to persevere through several physical obstacles. Mike Thomas, LaToya's adopted father, said she has had to endure health complications since her birth.
When she was in elementary school, LaToya was treated for attention deficit disorder and took medication for a few years. Later, she was found to have high blood pressure, which has brought up an enlarged heart.
Her health concerns became even more serious after she took a urine test during a seventh-grade basketball physical. Doctors noticed that Thomas had protein in her urine, leading to the diagnosis of C1q Nephropathy.
C1q is a normal protein of the body's immune system. In this case, the protein makes its way to the kidneys, limiting the organ's ability to filter the blood. Since the disease has only been recently identified, LaToya's family was concerned.
"Everything was escalated," said her adoptive mother, Claudia Thomas, whose family took custody of LaToya when she was 2 months old. "You wanted answers right away, and the doctors couldn't give us any."
The family spent a lot of time at Riley's Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. At the time, Claudia said another child diagnosed with C1q was almost immediately put on dialysis.
"We were told that at any time, LaToya could also need a kidney transplant," Claudia said.
LaToya was put through an aggressive drug-treatment program, going through steroid drips at Porter Hospital every other day and taking prednisone for almost four years.
"We had to rely on the Lord," Claudia said. "We couldn't have dealt with this without His strength."
When originally diagnosed, LaToya's illness meant her participation in sports was up in the air. Five years later, she has much more energy, but she still deals with health issues on a day-by-day basis.
Thomas spent part of last season going through tests in Indianapolis, and she's also had to cope with some torn rib cartilage, which has limited her role this year.
"This is my sport," said Thomas, who is hitting .320 with a homer, five doubles and 10 RBIs this season, primarily as a designated player. "When I come out here with my teammates, I forget that I am sick."
But there's nothing forgettable about what Thomas brings to the Cherokees (3-7).
"She teaches us all to persevere," Morgan Twp. coach Larry Babcock said of Thomas. "No matter the situation, there's always a way to get through it, no matter what your abilities -- or limited abilities -- are."
Thomas' emphatic style is also a positive trait.
"She has one of the best attitudes on the team," sophomore pitcher Kaley Lauder said. "She's very loud, and I can always hear her in the dugout helping keep the team up. It's one of the best voices I hear from the mound."
But Thomas does more than just lead the team in cheers.
"She can really destroy the ball," senior left fielder Victoria Deman said of Thomas. "No one treats her differently. She wouldn't like that.
"I love her. She's the girl I try to compete with as a batter. She can still hit those home runs."
Softball players aren't the only ones inspired by Thomas' actions.
"Sports are pretty much everything to me, but I am just so glad to see her doing well and feeling fine," said sophomore athlete Isaiah Thomas, LaToya's biological brother. "She's been dealing with these (kidney) problems for how long and sometimes doesn't feel well. I just know I have to suck it up and (keep) doing what I have to do."
While Thomas enjoys hearing others talk about her as an inspiration, the junior takes a grounded approach when looking at her situation.
"I've seen worse," Thomas said. "I have friends who have cancer or met people who are dying from illnesses. I could be in a hospital dying.
"I give my parents a lot of props for getting me to the hospital each month, helping me catch up on school work and get me back to being normal. I thank them every day in my heart.
"It does feel great to know that I am making a difference, showing others they have nothing to be afraid of. They can get over things as long as they remember in their heart that they are stronger than anything."