Back in the Game: After Cancer, Chaltain Turns Toward Training

  • Grady Chaltain, of Hanover, was diagnosed with brain cancer three years ago and is now a personal trainer. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)

    Grady Chaltain, of Hanover, was diagnosed with brain cancer three years ago and is now a personal trainer. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Marauders’ Grady Chaltain, left, and Carl Cutler celebrate Hanover's basketball victory on March 7, 2007. (Valley News - Channing Johnson)

    The Marauders’ Grady Chaltain, left, and Carl Cutler celebrate Hanover's basketball victory on March 7, 2007. (Valley News - Channing Johnson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Grady Chaltain, of Hanover, was diagnosed with brain cancer three years ago and is now a personal trainer. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
  • The Marauders’ Grady Chaltain, left, and Carl Cutler celebrate Hanover's basketball victory on March 7, 2007. (Valley News - Channing Johnson)

Lebanon — Former Hanover High two-sport standout Grady Chaltain was always a leader on the field. Now having overcome brain cancer, he’s hoping to lead clients in the training room.

Chaltain, 24, recently graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in kinesiology and is a part-time personal trainer at Wayne’s World Elite Fitness Training in Lebanon. Less than three years ago, the former Marauders’ all-state basketball and lacrosse player was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a high-grade tumor requiring surgery, radiation treatment and six months of chemotherapy.

“I just started getting headaches and finally went to the doctor,” Chaltain recalled during a shift at Wayne’s World last week. “Within about six hours, I went from being a perfectly healthy college kid to a cancer patient.”

Chaltain was used to coming through in the clutch. As a junior at Hanover he hit the game winning 3-pointer to secure the Marauders’ 40-38 upset win over Portsmouth in the NHIAA Class I state championship game. That same year, he scored eight goals in Hanover’s 11-8 win over Bishop Guertin in the Division I lacrosse final.

Cancer, of course, was a whole new type of battle, yet Chaltain drew upon his life lessons learned through athletics to help fight it.

“In lacrosse or basketball, if one of your star players goes down, someone’s got to step up and fill the hole,” he said. “You’ve still got to figure out how to win, and that’s what I had to do.”

It wasn’t easy for Chaltain, who lost 55 pounds during treatment, had trouble keeping food down and often woke up nauseated. When the Marauders’ boys basketball team organized an “All In for Grady” fundraiser during a home game against Lebanon, Chaltain was two months into chemotherapy, bald and wheelchair-bound.

“It was really a struggle at that point,” he said. “Before I got sick, I was doing club basketball (at Maryland), I was in the boxing club and was on the scout team that practiced with the women’s varsity (basketball) team. I was used to having all of these athletic outlets, and not having them anymore, being in a wheelchair, was really boring.”

Chaltain slowly rebuilt his strength and coordination through occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy. He suffered from neuropathy, at one time unable even to cut his fingernails. “I couldn’t feel my hands or feet for awhile,” he recalled. “I still remember wiggling my toes again for the first time and how awesome it was.”

Chaltain’s spirits were lifted by visits from his girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth Benz. “Bless her heart for coming to see me as much as she did,” he recalled. “It made all the difference when she was there.”

Chaltain returned to campus in April 2012, perhaps a bit prematurely. He grew ill during the drive south and spent four days at a Washington hospital. “I had a temperature of 103 and didn’t have enough white blood cells to bring it back down,” he recalled.

Today, Chaltain estimates he’s 85 percent recovered. He’s playing one-on-one games of pickup basketball again and making big strides in the weight room, where he’s been working with trainer Scott Stone. Chaltain’s first client is his mother, Aileen, who’s focused on building upper-body strength and regaining flexibility in a knee she hurt recently while playing tennis.

“He’s trying to get me to do chin-ups and pull-ups, which is kind of hilarious,” Aileen Chaltain said. “I told him, ‘I can’t even do one!’ but he said, ‘Yes, you can! You have to focus on doing one first and then build from there.’ He’s a great coach.”

While vigorously building his own strength, Grady Chaltain is hoping to soon be playing five-on-five basketball again. He’d eventually love to coach hoops, with a dream of catching on with the Dartmouth College coaching staff at some point. Chaltain’s late father, Vic, was a 1969 Dartmouth graduate who played fullback for the Big Green football team.

Chaltain also hopes to use his story to motivate others, recently speaking at the Hanover boys lacrosse team’s end-of-season banquet.

“What I’ve been through has taught me a lot about the fragility of life, how things can change quickly, but how (adversity) can also be a blessing,” he said. “I have the opportunity to share that with others now, to let people know that all is not lost when you get sick.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.