Flash back to February 2012, when Sydney Rosa began to notice something was wrong.
“I couldn’t hear and I was getting nose bleeds all the time,” Rosa said. “I would wake up in the middle of the night and have a huge puddle of blood on my shirt and it was really gross. My mom kept taking me to the doctor and I got tubes put in my ears, but nothing really changed.”
The months passed and Rosa’s condition didn’t improve. That June, after doctors took extensive blood work from the then-East Brunswick High School freshman, the diagnosis was revealed: Rosa was suffering from Wegener’s granulomatosis, a rare disorder where blood vessels become inflamed, making it hard to breathe. Rosa was slowly losing her ability to hear and she was struggling to operate normally.
“I felt lousy at that time and it was really bad for me,” she said. “I didn’t want to get out of my bed in the morning and I had headaches a lot. I just didn’t want to go to school or anything. I missed 16 days of school last year, including eight days in the last quarter, so it really set me back. I was really out of shape.”
But the fight in Rosa’s body would not succumb to the ailment that plagued her throughout the summer, and as a sophomore for the Bears last season, she recorded 15 goals in the final 13 games, earning a first-team All-Area selection for the second time in as many years.
“She found that gear again and when she found her game, we took off,” head coach Kevin Brady said. “She’s the kid that is the heart and soul of our team.”
As the Bears were on their way to a ninth-straight Greater Middlesex Conference Red Division title, Rosa played, but didn’t register any points. She assisted on goals in consecutive games in late September, but didn’t score her first goal of the season until October 2 in a contest against Woodbridge.
“That was like my favorite moment and my favorite goal I had ever scored,” she said. “I was kind of getting really upset with myself and you could tell I was getting frustrated and when I finally scored that goal, I heard my mom screaming at the top of her lungs in the stands. It was an incredible feeling and I finally felt like I was back and ready to contribute.”
Even though she’d been playing at less than 100 percent health, Rosa wasn’t going to let that stop her from enjoying the game she loves with a team she calls her second family.
“She’s the most inspirational kid I’ve come across in all my years of coaching,” Brady said. “She recovered from something that is life-threatening and she’s a 16-year-old, bubbly girl that doesn’t want to dwell on it. She’s a living embodiment of what sports are all about and I think she’s the hardest working kid I’ve ever been around.”
Getting a healthy Rosa in the lineup was almost like adding a player at midseason, so when the GMCT began, East Brunswick entered as a serious contender. In the opening round, Rosa connected on a hat trick against Colonia and in a semifinal game against J.P. Stevens, she scored twice and assisted on another as the Bears won handily. But she was holding off on submitting her best performance of the season.
Against Piscataway in the GMCT final, Rosa scored the game-winning goal, giving her school their 27th conference championship and it’s a goal that ranks right up there on the list of her favorite moments.
“I have always wanted to have one of those moments and those goals that proves to people why I should be there,” she said. “I was just out of my mind, so excited.”
The fact she was able to score any goals at all, let alone play a sport so demanding and physically draining was cause for celebration in its own right. Without treatment, Wegener’s granulomatosis has been known to be fatal in less than a year. Because the cause is widely unknown, the fearsome disease could strike anyone at any time. But the support system that Rosa has makes every day worth fighting for.
“I seriously have the best family in the world. My mom is absolutely amazing; she misses a lot of work for me and she does it because she wants to be with me,” Rosa said. “She’s been by my side the whole time and when I had to undergo all of these surgeries, you’re not allowed to eat, so she wouldn’t eat either, because she didn’t want me to go through it on my own.”
Since undergoing multiple surgeries this past summer, Rosa has regained most of her hearing and things look bright for the future. She said she feels 100 percent healthy heading into her junior season, although she’s not in the best physical condition of her life.
“I ran a lot this summer to try and get back in the swing of things, but sometimes I can’t breathe, because my arch dropped in my nose, and it caved in, so when I breathe really fast, it stops and gets cut off. So, sometimes I can’t breathe all that well,” she said. “I think 50 percent is how you actually feel and 50 percent is more of a mental feel. I’m all there now and I don’t let it consume me and defy me. I defy it.”
Her effort and drive to beat this ailment hasn’t been lost on her teammates, most of whom didn’t know exactly what she was going through until late last season.
“I could never do what she’s gone through. She has such great strength and to see her come back from such a serious illness is insane. To have her back at full strength this year, I can’t wait,” senior Ellie DiLiberto said.
Considering the Bears were 11-0-0 when Rosa recorded at least one point last season, the feeling around the squad is that everyone is excited to have her back playing at all.
“It looked like there was a great gift that had it unfairly taken away last season, but she’s taken it back,” Brady said. “She makes me excited to go to practice every day and see her play.”