MOSES LAKE — Chinese food.
That salty, breaded goodness. Orange chicken, egg rolls, the works.
Moses Lake Christian Academy graduate and current Big Bend freshman Anna Yarbro can’t eat any of it.
“Everything in Chinese food is breaded and that’s my favorite food to eat — that was my favorite food to eat.”
The past tense stems from a long year of uncertainty. In the spring of 2016, right before high school graduation, Yarbro had an “episode” — a term coined by her mother — and was taken to the emergency room. Her symptoms were explained away as stress-induced due to the upcoming state track and field championships and graduation soon after.
Yarbro slept for 48 hours after the initial visit and her condition did not improve.
“For a good three-fourths of the year we were going through it, it was just a lot of doctors’ appointments,” she said. “We didn’t know what was wrong. I was kind of passing out, but I wasn’t losing full consciousness. I would be in a room and my body would just shut down. My body would be hot, but there was no temperature. I wouldn’t have a fever or anything, but you could see the sweat dripping off my face. I was shaking so they thought I was having seizures, but then we found out after hundreds of doctors’ appointments that my body was reacting to gluten.
“I have celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder.”
Celiac disease is described as a serious autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation.
It seems odd to sum up the disease in a sentence when it completely shifted Yarbro’s life. She was set to attend the University of Idaho in the fall, ready to embrace her independence. Instead, without a diagnosis for some time, she was relegated to home.
No car. No job.
“It was a really hard year,” Yarbro said. “I spent a lot of my time at home. I wasn’t able to leave because they took away my driving privileges. It would happen at random times because we didn’t know what it was so they were like ‘you can’t drive.’ I wasn’t able to have a job because any time I did any sort of physical work because my body was so weak I wasn’t able to do anything.
“I didn’t get depressed, but kind of in a way I was. Leaving the house made me anxious and I didn’t like being away from home for a long time. It really took away my social life. I didn’t have a whole lot there other than my boyfriend and my family. No one really understood what was going on. All my friends were at college and I didn’t really have an opportunity to make new friends so it kind of put me into this hard depressed kind of state, but my family was there for me and my boyfriend — they were super supportive. Even though it was really hard, I wouldn’t be here without them. They are the ones that kept my spirits up when I was down.”
Yarbro returned to athletics at the start of the 2017-18 school year.
“I really wasn’t able to do any physical activity and so then when I got better the next year I started slowly getting into shape, but throughout that year I went and helped with the Christian Academy — the girls team, the high school team,” she said. “I went and practiced with them sometimes and then I was the assistant coach for middle school and then volleyball, too. Just going to games and watching and being with them throughout the second year I was out I really missed it and noticed how much basketball was a big part of my life.”
The coaching was a nice first step. But how feasible would a return to playing competitive basketball be? Yarbro approached Big Bend women’s basketball coach Preston Wilks last winter to express interest. She wasn’t all the way back yet, but vowed to be ready by spring practice. Her preparation started with a modest goal of running a mile every other day in addition to some plyometric exercises to help with mobility.
The hard work paid off as Wilks invited Yarbro to be on the team at the conclusion of spring practice.
Now, over two and a half years removed from her first health scare, Yarbro is a key reserve on a Big Bend team that is ranked No. 2 in the entire NWAC. Yarbro also boasts a 4.0 grade point average.
“Anna represents everything that is good in athletics,” athletic director Mark Poth said. “She is an exceptional student-athlete.”
Yarbro has been a consistent factor off Big Bend’s bench at the start of region play. Yarbro, who was the player of the year in the Central Washington 1B league, has posted at least four points and four rebounds in region play, including 10 points and seven rebounds on the road against Spokane.
“She definitely talks a lot and gets us pumped up when she comes on the floor,” sophomore Leah Dougherty said.
Yarbro was a do-everything, double-double machine for the Lions; however, she has embraced her reserve role and the Vikings are better off for it. Winners of 10 in a row, Big Bend is in first place in the NWAC East.
This kind of success did not come without a tremendous amount of mental fortitude. There were many months where Yarbro didn’t know what her future held, basketball or otherwise.
“It was really hard, but it made me stronger, too, as a person,” she said. “Even though I wasn’t independent from my family, now that I’m better I feel stronger as a person in myself, knowing who I am, and being like, ‘it’s OK. Even though you went through a hard thing, you can do this.’
“And not trying to let something like that just hold me back and give me excuses, but try to be strong and go after what I want. Like playing basketball. Me getting to do this is amazing. I’ve loved every second of it.”