Aly Tekippe is a sight to see.
But full sight isn’t something the Bishop Kelly track and field star always had — the senior was legally blind in her left eye for nearly a decade.
She’s won 42 different times in high school, including six district and three state titles, so imagine what Tekippe could do at Friday and Saturday’s 4A State Track and Field Championships at Eagle High with her sight restored.
“It was an obstacle, maybe, but she didn’t let it take away from what she wanted to do,” Bishop Kelly assistant coach James Honnell said. “She didn’t use it as an excuse or a deterrent and was like, ‘OK, this is where I’m at and I’m going to be the best I can be from here.’
“She’s an inspiration. It’s something we can use when we’re motivating other kids in the future. She had this situation and she didn’t let it deter her.”
Tekippe didn’t compete in track when it happened. She was playing softball and was quite the hitter — until the then 9-year-old couldn’t see the ball anymore. She was tested at school and couldn’t make out the large E on top of the eye chart. Tekippe was referred to the hospital and declared legally blind in her left eye with Keratoconus.
Keratoconus is a “progressive eye disease in which the normally round cornea thins and begins to bulge into a cone-like shape. This cone shape deflects light as it enters the eye on its way to the light-sensitive retina, causing distorted vision,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
The condition affects one in every 2,000 people.
Tekippe had an implant surgically inserted into her eye, but the damage was done and the procedure only stopped the disease from spreading.
“Even seeing the board in class was hard,” Tekippe said.
It also meant Tekippe had to find another sport.
She picked up track in the seventh grade while living in Texas. Tekippe broke the school’s pole vault record in her first year, and the triple jump record fell the following year.
Tekippe was already a proven commodity when she moved back and enrolled at Bishop Kelly for her freshman year. She upset former Skyview star Auby Barr, who went on to become four-time state champion, for the 4A District III title that year with one good eye.
“I didn’t even notice a difference because I was just so used to seeing out of my right eye anyway,” Tekippe said. “It was normal for me. It just transitioned naturally.”
However, another body part soon gave out.
Tekippe was competing in the triple jump at the Idaho Dash Time Trial at the Ford Idaho Center on Dec. 30, 2016, when she tore cartilage in her left knee. She took off with the left foot, stepped with the right before landing back down on her left — awkwardly. She immediately pulled up on the jump and limped through the pit.
After reviewing her MRI, doctors told her there really wasn’t much they could do.
“They pretty much told me to stop doing track because it wasn’t going to get any better,” Tekippe said. “But I was like, ‘No, I can’t quit track. It’s my whole life right now.’ With my eye, track was my place and one of the few things I could do.”
Tekippe gave up the triple and high jump events. She also switched her lead foot from her left to the right in the pole vault and long jump, but the move had unintended consequences at the start of last season — Tekippe had used her right leg so much, cartilage tore in that knee as well. She had PRP and Cortisone shots just to compete.
Still, she won three state titles in the pole vault, long jump and in the 4x200-meter relay. Tekippe nearly added a fourth with a second-place showing in the 4x100 relay. She and her teammates finished just 26th of a second behind Middleton.
“I had surgery on my legs last year and was trying to heal from it. She made me realize that if she could do it, I can do it,” senior Amaia Van Tol said. “But I can’t imagine what she went through because jumping is a whole different thing. So to do that, it’s kind of unheard of. She definitely surpassed everybody’s expectations, and I don’t think anybody has the determination or grit that she does.”
This season, Tekippe has her sight and legs back.
She received an experimental, non-FDA approved surgery on her left eye, an implanted contact placed the day after her 18th birthday on Dec. 5, 2018.
“When I woke up, I looked at my hand and it was crazy. I could see all the lines in it,” Tekippe said. “I could see the leaves on the trees and the freeway signs. It was insane.”
It took an adjustment period, as Tekippe said she struggled getting over hurdles and planting her pole in the box while her depth perception was out of whack for about three weeks.
Tekippe also returned to the triple jump and hasn’t lost a step. She won the district title last week at Nampa with a personal record mark of 36 feet, 7 inches, despite not having competed in the event in two-and-a-half years. Tekippe didn’t even need to jump in the final round.
It was all part of the University of Montana signee going 4 for 4 with district championships in the pole vault (10-6), long jump (17-5) and 4x100 relay (48.86 seconds) as well.
“I don’t even know how she does it, honestly,” senior Lauren Elwer said. “That’s just how insane she is. Nobody should be able to do that. Even the people that are completely healthy can’t hit the marks that she’s hitting or run as fast as she is right now.”
This week, Tekippe aims to become the second Bishop Kelly girl in three years to win four state titles, a feat that six-time champion and Princeton athlete Lindsey Schmidt accomplished in 2017.
What a sight that would be.
And Tekippe would get a much better view of it this time around.
“Honestly, all of this was a blessing in disguise,” Tekippe said. “If everything didn’t happen the way that it did, I don’t know if I would have done track in the first place. And I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else.”