EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Grace Kristo is a junior volleyball player for Eau Claire Regis. Nearly 10 years ago, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that resulted in complete hair loss. Now, she’s courageously taking the condition head-on. SportScene 13’s Neil Hebert has the story.
In second grade, Alopecia Areata started its course.
“I more just didn’t want people to know or notice,” the thought Regis junior, Grace Kristo, had for nearly a decade about the condition that took her hair. “When people did notice, I just shrunk.”
Grace would wear a wig at all times: at school, in public, and on the court because of her hair loss.
But 9 years after she was diagnosed, she had a change of heart.
“The first day of this summer, I let go of it,” Grace said with a smile on her face.
She ditched the wig. For good.
“One night, I was just sitting in bed and I texted my mom. I said, ‘Hey, guess what?’ I just said I was done with it,” Grace said. “I know that’s what she always wanted for me and I know that’s what the people close to me have always wanted, but I was always so against it. Even going without it in front of my close friends I wouldn’t do.”
Grace may not have hair, but she’s no different than your typical junior in high school.
“We were so proud of her because obviously that would take a lot of guts for her because people still look at her and they still don’t really understand it,” Bria Thalacker, Grace’s volleyball teammate, said of those who look at her differently.
“Everybody knows you for you,” Elle Matson, another teammate of Grace, said. “It’s you, you can’t change it, and you’re beautiful just the way you are.”
“She wasn’t actually sure if we knew about it. Yeah, we knew and it’s cool,” Travis Eichner, the head coach of the Regis volleyball team, said. “We support you. Honestly, the next day when she had it off, nobody thought anything different. It’s just our girl playing volleyball at the end of the day.”
Alopecia Areata is just a disease that takes away one’s hair, and those looking from the outside-in have nothing to worry about.
“If we all know that this is a simple condition where you just lose hair, it’s not contagious, that creates a much less traumatic situation for the individual,” Dr. Johann Peikert, a consultant dermatologist with Mayo Clinic Health System, said. “What we need to do is understand the disease more and go along with it.”
If you see her on the court, going out of your way to say something negative won’t affect her play.
“When it happens when I’m on playing volleyball on the court and someone from the other student section says something, I have to really try and pull it together. But at this point, the confidence I have now with it, I just let it go,” Grace said.
Her support system throughout the years has helped her get to where she is now: carefree and confident.
“At this point, I don’t even care. I’m not glad that I have, but I’m glad that I have it rather than someone that really couldn’t deal with it because at this point, I can deal with it. I have the confidence that I don’t know if everyone could have, so I think that I maybe have it for a reason and to inspire others to be themselves.”
For others who have Alopecia Areata, Grace has a simple message.
“If you don’t have hair, that’s okay. It’s something on top of your head,” Grace said with a smile. “You will eventually get to the point where you’re comfortable with yourself, but do it at your own pace. Don’t do it at the pace of parents or your friends. If they’re telling you you should be okay with yourself, don’t listen to them unless you truly feel it.”
Patience will go a long way.
“Wait until you truly feel comfortable with yourself and then be yourself,” Grace said. “Don’t force it upon yourself to go without a wig or go without a scarf. Do it when you want to.”
And with a little twist in the story, Grace tore her ACL and meniscus in her knee a couple days after WEAU spoke with her. Looking at the way she’s handled having Alopecia, we’re positive she’ll attack her rehab the same.