Niki Nolte is no stranger to facing challenges head on.
For most of the Kutztown senior’s life, the goals she strived toward were of her own choosing.
Over the past year, the challenges were much more unexpected.
Diagnosed with primary mediastinal B cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma in April, Nolte positively persevered toward overcoming her cancer diagnosis. After 18 arduous weeks of chemotherapy, Nolte learned she was cancer-free and in remission on August 24.
On Sept. 11, the swimming standout who is a past district champion and PIAA medal winner, found herself on a soccer field of all places participating in a sport she hadn’t competed in for 10 years. Nolte may lack in soccer experience, but there’s no doubt she knows how to go for a goal.
Nolte was in the Kutztown girls soccer team’s starting lineup for a matchup with Oley Valley in their annual cancer awareness game, an event envisioned by Kutztown girls’ coach Dan Stemko over the summer. Stemko messaged Oley Valley coach Andrew Haas to see if he and his team would like to be involved and got a resounding yes. Along with raising money for pediatric cancer, it was predetermined Nolte would score the opening goal of the game. Oley Valley would then get to level the score and the game would proceed from there.
Off the opening tip, Nolte jogged down the field alongside Emily Bubbenmoyer and other teammates to the face of goal, received a pass from her fellow senior and booted it from close range into the Oley Valley net to give Kutztown an opening-minute lead.
Teammates and opponents circled around, each smile bigger than the next, to celebrate Nolte and her goal.
“It’s incredible,” Nolte said. “It’s truly amazing to get all the support from the team, the coaches, the school, administration; it’s been so amazing and it’s helped me get through this process so much.”
A back-and-forth game turned for good when Oley Valley’s Julia Mortimer scored the decisive goal in overtime of the Lynx’ 4-3 Berks III win. Yet the smiling faces on both teams during their postgame picture together were indicative of a day where everyone won.
“We lost, but we didn’t,” Stemko said. “They’re going to remember this long after they forget how to trap a ball. We’re going to remember this long after, and that’s really what it’s all about.”
The Kutztown community came out strong in support for the game with concession proceeds and donations going toward the Pediatric Cancer Foundation of the Lehigh Valley.
The victories keep coming for Nolte: the two-time District 3-AA champion in the 100 breaststroke returned to swimming training for the first time on Sept. 12.
“It feels amazing (to be back swimming),” said Nolte, who competes outside the high school season with the Kutztown Dolphins and Boyertown Navy Seals. “I truly appreciate life more and the sport of swimming a lot more having it taken away from me. I’ve been a swimmer since I was 7, started taking swim lessons when I was 3. This was the longest time I’ve been out of the water my entire life. It’s been really hard, so when I go back in tomorrow I just know that I’ve been through something so much worse that nothing can be as hard as that.”
It was a milestone day for all involved, especially Nolte and her parents, Melissa and Karl.
“It was overwhelming,” Melissa Nolte said. “You know the date is there, but you don’t feel it until it actually happens. I truly haven’t cried over all this the past year — I’ve been the strong mom — and I let go tonight. … It’s just nice to see your daughter smile.”
The day was a triumph for not only Nolte but her community of support.
“I always try to take on challenges and do everything I can. I would not have been able to go through it without the support of everybody. This is something you can’t do alone. It’s something you need support for. I was a very positive person going into it and I tried to stay positive and tried to be myself throughout it all and I think that helped a lot, as well as my family, friends, school, administration, my swim teams, the soccer players, everyone helped so much.”