Tennal Tough: A coach's fight against cancer

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CENTRALIA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Head coach Kimbrook Tennal has been with the Centralia volleyball program since 1997, helping to lead 14 teams to 14 state titles in Class 1A.

This year, Tennal and his team are looking to snag number 15, but they face their toughest battle yet--one that's not won on the court.

Tennal was diagnosed with colon cancer in April of 2018. The diagnosis was followed by surgery to remove a tumor the size of an apple.

But what doctors thought was malignant, turned out not to be the case.

"They didn't think I was going to have to have chemo but then when they tested the lymphnodes, I had stage 3B cancer," Tennal said. "If I would have just gone in and gotten tested when I was 50 years old, this wouldn't be happening to me now."

Of all of the symptoms that come with chemotherapy, Tennal said the worst has been the neuropathy.

"It's the most uncomfortable thing that you can imagine," Tennal said. "It's like walking on pins and needles with your feet like stones.

"After you get the treatment, a couple of days later you start getting sick and feeling sick, and just being able to come to school and work all day, then practice for two hours is not easy. But I couldn't leave these guys."

Over the summer, Tennal's team and the Centralia community came together to host a bike-a-thon and a run/walk 5K. The event ended up raising over $16,000 for Tennal's treatment.

"He was like, 'I don't think so. There wasn't that many people there,'" said Kate Elliott, senior ourside hitter. "I was like, 'Coach, there was a lot of people that donated that didn't even come,' because everyone knows him, everyone loves him and everyone wants to help him."

Tennal says he's got a great community supporting him and his team--a team looking toward their last run with Tennal with a new perspective.

"He is always talking about growing and how working hard doesn't only help on the volleyball court," said Maegan Koch, senior outside, "but also helps whenever you grow up and get a job. So he's taught everyone more than just how to play volleyball."

"Nothing's ever that bad now," said Maddy Lueger, senior outside. "Like if we think it's a hard practice, he has it way worse. He can't feel his hands or his feet, and he's tossing balls and picking up balls and doing it all for us. So if it's taught me anything, it's how inspiring and strong he is and how much I want to be like him."

The Panthers created a chant they perform before every game where they slap the ground and yell "Tennal tough."

Tennal said that chant is just enough to bring a tear to his eye each time.

As well as telling his story, Tennal wanted to stress the importance of getting a colonoscopy at the age of 50, especially if you have a history of colon cancer in your family.