Courtesy of New Paltz Sports Information Department
Less than a year ago, New Paltz men's basketball player Nick Paquette was lying in a hospital bed unsure whether he'd be able to go back to school, let alone play basketball again. But in the seven months or so between his diagnosis and the end of the Hawks 2017-18 basketball season, the junior guard has not only persevered through his condition, but also served as inspiration for others who are going through a similar battle.
"For my story to be out there it's amazing, because at one point I didn't know if I would step on to the basketball court again," Paquette said. "I didn't even know if I would go back to school, but here I am less than a year later and proving that I can still do these things. I can live a normal life and I can still exceed at what I want to do and just knowing that I'm able to do it, it is a blue print for other people who might have to go through something similar."
Not only has Paquette adapted to living with his disease, Chronic Myeloid Leukemia -- a rare form of blood cancer, which is most commonly seen in older adults -- but was eager to share his story and bring hope to others who may be going through a similar situation. Because of his perseverance, and willingness to help others, he was named as one of the recipients for this year's State University of New York Athletic Conference's (SUNYAC) Award of Valor, which is given to an individual or group who demonstrated ability to overcome and serve as an inspiration to others.
"The journey that I have been through the last year has been a tough one, and to be recognized for overcoming what I have been through, and using that as inspiration for someone else that means a lot, because at the end of the day that is what I wanted to do from this," Paquette said. "I wanted to be an inspiration for someone else who has to go through a similar situation, and being recognized for that feels amazing. It makes me feel like I am doing my part."
Since being diagnosed with CML, Paquette not only got back on the basketball court for the Hawks, but also was featured on ESPN Longhorn network and ESPN.com for his letter, published on Yahoo Sports, to Texas University men's basketball player Andrew Jones.
In the letter, Paquette explained his own battle with Leukemia, how he felt when he was diagnosed, and his reaction after reading about Jones' cancer diagnosis -– a 20-year old college basketball player like himself. He advised Jones to stay strong, keep positive and expressed his faith that he too will fight through the disease.
His letter not only touched Jones and his family, but the public as well.
"One thing that was cool on the letter I wrote to Andrew, almost every single comment on the comment section was just positive," Paquette said. "To see all the positive responses and the feedback, saying how great this was and me choosing to share my story to someone else who is in a terrible situation that meant a lot, because that was really I want to get out of it. I just wanted Andrew to feel better and I wanted just a positive response from all of this."
Paquette had just turned 20-years old when he first was diagnosed with CML, and his 21st birthday is still about a month away. In that short time, Paquette not only fought to get back on the basketball court, but also played a pivotal role in an improved season for New Paltz, which got better in nearly all statistical categories, while winning six more games than the previous season.
For the first time in nearly two years, Paquette said he finally felt like his old self. The same old self that had a stand-out high school career and a break-out freshman campaign for the Hawks.
"Comparing how I felt then to this year, I wish I just went to the doctor earlier. I wish I knew," he said. "But, I felt like I did [this year] like I did in high school, like I did my freshman year. I just felt like I was completely rejuvenated. I felt fresh. I felt like I could run up and down the court for hours."
Paquette didn't miss one game this season and started 21-of-25 contests, ranking fourth on the team in points (183) averaging 7.3 points per game. He also was fourth in field goals made (66) averaging 36.1 percent and second in 3-pointers made (43) averaging 35 percent from the arc.
"At the beginning of the year, like I said, I didn't know that I would be able to play. I didn't know if I would be starting. I didn't know how it would end up as the season went on, but coach [Keith Kenney] had a lot of faith in my game and me as a person," Paquette said. "I just listened to my body and I felt good the whole time. Coach was very happy to see me playing like I was, and obviously playing the whole year was an accomplishment out of its self."
Through a tough battle, Paquette has stayed positive in his fight and has seen a silver lining in his diagnosis. He doesn't know what he will do after basketball, but he does want to continue making a difference.
"I really don't know what I want to do as I get older, but obviously now everything has changed in the last year," he said. "Just seeing how all this with Andrew has turned out, I would honestly love to make a career out of this, just helping other people and acting as an inspiration with inspirational talks and stuff like that. I am not sure, but we'll see where the path takes me. I would definitely love to continue on this current path I am on right now."