BREMERTON — Scars always make for interesting stories.
Olympic College sophomore Hunter Keffer has a scar about four inches long that starts on the right side of his head by his hair and curves around his hairline and ends just above his temple.
He used to hide it by parting his hair to that side, but now, he’s no longer embarrassed about it or how it looks. Keffer leaves it in plain view.
“It’s kind of a victory for me,” he said.
It’s only noticeable if you talk to the 21-year-old for more than a few minutes, but the story behind it and the memories that are still with him make it stand out more and more.
It all started the summer before he was to enter the eighth grade. Keffer was already into several sports such as football (already a strong athlete, he was put where ever the coaches felt he would be best), soccer (a goalkeeper, he traveled briefly with a select team) and wrestling.
One day when he was at church, he suffered the first of many epileptic seizures.
“I was just standing in the sanctuary and all of a sudden I blacked out and hit the floor,” he said.
The ensuing trip to the hospital and the MRI that followed revealed a dime-sized tumor on the right frontal lobe of Keffer’s brain.
It’s called an angoicentric glioma tumor and it’s one of the rarest, but one of the fastest-growing, tumors in existence. It was first introduced into the World Health Organization tumor classification in 2007. Only 28 cases have been reported. Keffer barely remembers the name because it’s so difficult to pronounce.
He’s thankful the seizure happened.
“I don’t want to say it’s good to have seizures, but it was a blessing in disguise, because if I didn’t have the seizure, I wouldn’t have gone in and have it checked out,” he said. “I’m just glad that it’s out of my head.”
A month later, he had surgery to have the tumor removed. There wasn’t much damage to his brain, although he did have to do some therapy with his right leg and relearn some organizational skills.
But that wasn’t the end of his woes.
Keffer had to go back in for surgery to remove scar tissue that was building up in his brain and had become a dangerous mass.
The worst part of his recovery was the massive amount of pills he had to take. There were three different pills to deal with his epileptic seizures, for his constant migraine headache, for his depression. In all, he was taking about 35 different medications.
“I had a metal box for all my pills and a key that I had around my neck and I carried it everywhere with me,” he said.
Keffer said he had trouble dealing with all the medications and was often in a drug-induced haze. He also worried about how taking all of the pills every day and whether they were doing long-term damage to his body.
“You’re not supposed to be on max medication for a significant amount of time,” he said.
Through all this, Keffer still competed in track and field. The doctors told him he had to give up the other sports as he couldn’t risk taking any blows to the head, but track was safe.
“I had to take it more seriously because it was the only sport I could do, but in that I found that track is where my passion lies,” Keffer said. “It was bittersweet because I really liked those other sports, but I’m glad I was able to find track and still compete.”
He was introduced to the high jump in the ninth grade and quickly took to the event, qualifying for state twice for Olympic High School. He earned a medal as a junior, when he took sixth.
Keffer transferred to Central Kitsap his senior year because that school offered classes and resources for students dealing with a serious illness in order for him to graduate. He ran for the cross country team and did track and field, but didn’t make it to state in the high jump.
“One of the reasons I loved the high jump was that it was the only time that I was getting ready to jump, I could get rest from the headache that I had,” he said.
After graduation, Keffer took a year off and volunteered at Island Lake for Crista Camps. He also decided he was tired of having to take all the meds.
So he slowly weaned himself off the medication. By the time he took his last pill, his migraines finally went away. He hasn’t had a seizure since.
“The doctors were actually looking to add more medication,” Keffer said. “It wasn’t something my doctor told me to do and I don’t suggest anyone to do the same without talking to their doctor first, but I was just fed up with it. My friends and family were saying that I wasn’t Hunter, that I wasn’t myself. So one day I just knew that I wasn’t supposed to be on this many pills.”
His faith played a massive part in him helping to recover.
“If I didn’t have my faith, I would have lost hope a long time ago,” he said. “One of my favorite verses is Matthew 6:34 — do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow has enough worry of its own. So I was able to look at that and it really helps me out. I can’t worry about having epileptic seizures anymore cause I’ll get caught up in that fear and I don’t need that. I’m so free right now and it’s so awesome to be set apart from that fear.”
Keffer said he’s open to helping those that have also gone through what he once went through. Several members at his church have reached out to him to do just that.
“I knew that there was something good that was going to come of it,” he said. “Looking back now I can see that there is very much good that came out from me going through that surgery and so now I’m able to share my story with others and help them.”
During his time off, he found he missed track and field so he decided to enroll at OC and go out for the team.
Coach Dan Dittmer was more than excited to have him come out for the team.
“He had not done track in a year, but he showed up to practice and we got to talking,” he said. “So we started working with hurdling — I make all the kids work with hurdles — and a year and two months later, he’s good enough to qualify in the top 16 for the entire NWAC.
“He has unlimited potential,” Dittmer continued. “And I’m flat out amazed at where he’s at from where he once was. It just goes to show you what you can do.”
While Keffer had to work to get back in shape, he was having a good season last year, but got hurt when he landed wrong on a pole vault attempt and dislocated his kneecap. Although he avoided serious injury, he still had to sit out the rest of the season to rehab it.
This season, he’s healthy and excelling, qualifying for the NWAC championships, which begin Monday in Spokane, in five events: the high jump, the 100-yard dash, the shot put and the 4×100 and 4×400 meter relays. He’s the top seed in the high jump at 6-foot-7.
“It feels pretty good to finally make it to the championships and hopefully place,” he said.
He took sixth at the NWAC decathlon championships in Salem, Oregon, the weekend of April 27; his teammate Jayson Brocklesby won by over 250 points over second-place finisher Colton Thurman of Lane Community College.
“I didn’t put up the numbers that I needed to,” he said. “I was pretty tired and I didn’t have the pop that I needed in a lot of the events, but it just gives me the opportunity to do better at the NWAC Championships.”
It will be the last time Keffer competes in track and field competitively. He’s been accepted to the Northwest College of Art and Design in Poulsbo and will take part in their graphic design program. Though he won’t be doing track and field, he’s finding other sports to try out, such as rock climbing and cycling.
Dittmer hopes he changes his mind — he said he’s heard from several colleges about Keffer, including Portland State — but he knows that education is important to him.
While Keffer is shooting for a top-three finish to earn All-American honors, he’s still happy he’s alive to make it this far one last time.
“I’ve had a huge victory over something that is very dark and scary for kids,” he said. “I definitely had to grow up really fast and learn a lot of things that kids my age back then wouldn’t have to go though and people won’t have to go through their entire lives. But it really helped get my focus straight and know what’s important.
“I could have just passed away,” Keffer continued. “But now I’m able to come out and enjoy life and compete in track and be a normal adult.”