Scott Liloia is a natural-born athlete.
He swam, wrestled and played Little League as a child. As an adult, he bicycles, swims, skis and has skydived.
Rollerblading, though, has always been a bit more frustrating.
The 29-year-old, who lives in South Glens Falls, was born with fibrosarcoma, which he described as a tissue-eating cancer. His parents were forced to make the difficult decision to have him undergo the amputation of his leg when he was 2 months old. He has only about seven inches of residual limb on his left side.
Despite having one leg, Liloia said his parents always encouraged him to do everything his able-bodied peers did, but inline skating was different, and prosthetic technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now. The prosthetist advised the then 9-year-old to sit out the activity.
It was the first time Liloia had been told he couldn’t do something.
He recalled taking his sister’s Rollerblades and practicing for hours in the basement, falling down hundreds of times before mastering a balance and rhythm of skating that worked with his prosthesis.
Finally, he called his parents down to show them what he had accomplished.
Liloia still gets choked up at the memory, describing it as a pivotal moment in his life.
“I proved it to myself that day that they were wrong and I could do it. That was just a huge step for me,” he said.
Liloia’s positive attitude serves him well in his job at Double H Ranch, a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses.
As a hospital outreach coordinator for the Lake Luzerne facility, he travels from New Hampshire to Philadelphia, visiting pediatric units to raise awareness about Double H, but more importantly, he brings “camping on a cart” to the young patients.
For 90 minutes, Liloia entertains from bins filled with a “campfire,” science experiments, crafts supplies, duct tape art and musical instruments, helping the kids forget about their illnesses for a little while.
The simulated camping experience brings Liloia back to his camping days when he lived in New Jersey. He was 13 when his family doctor told his parents about Happiness Is Camping, an oncology camp in Blairstown, N.J.
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Not only was it the first time he met other kids who popped off their prosthetic legs to go swimming like he did, the staff never questioned whether a camper could do something.
“What had been instilled in me was that I can do anything I want to do, I just might have to do it a little differently,” he said.
A road race he participated in last summer is an example of Liloia doing things his way. He had hoped to finish the 62 miles on his mountain bike, pedaling with just one leg because he felt his prosthesis would be more of a burden, but was hampered by cramping leg muscles, high winds, live electrical wires that snaked across the road from a downed power pole and a flat tire.
Liloia still managed to complete 50 miles. A support wagon drove him to a point two miles from the end and he rode the rest of the way. Just as he crossed the finish line, a thunderstorm rained down on him.
“It was at that moment, I took it as a sign that maybe I did enough,” he said with a chuckle.
Jacqueline Royael, director of operations for Double H, believes Liloia’s background with cancer gives him a unique perspective to relate to the kids he works with.
“He’s very motivating,” she said. “I’m amazed continually to see what he’s able to accomplish and I think that’s aside from the fact he has a prosthetic leg.”
Liloia said parents come up and tell him he is an inspiration to their children, but he said he is just reminded of the joy he had at camp and wants to bring that same carefree experience to these kids.
He also remembers the fear his parents felt when he was a youngster dealing with cancer. He said it makes him more sensitive to the moods of the parents of these young patients.
“If a mother can see her daughter laughing and learning a new craft, it might make her day go a bit better,” he said.
Liloia said his travel schedule doesn’t allow him much time to take part in the ropes course or the pool activities at Double H, so this summer, he’ll get a chance to reconnect with the camp experience by volunteering for a week, taking part in all of the “craziness.”
Royael doesn’t doubt he’ll make many new friends, kids and parents alike.
“Scott has the ability to put people in a positive mood and environment, even when everything around him may not be,” Royael said.