MISSOULA – The new year began 11 days ago and already the moment of the year has occurred.
Late Thursday night in Columbia Falls, junior Kimberly Peacock rose from the bench and sat next to head girls basketball coach Cary Finberg.
The crowd began to buzz and not because the Wildkats were busy blowing out the Whitefish Bulldogs. Peacock, who is recovering from a long battle with cancer, was about to make her athletic debut.
She walked toward the scorer’s table and checked in with about 1:15 to go in the game. And when she entered, she was greeted with a loud ovation from Columbia Falls and Whitefish fans together.
“I told coach earlier that I felt like I was ready if he had an opportunity to put me in. So he put me in the book and put me in for the last minute of the game,” Peacock said. “I was just really emotional and my teammates on the bench were pumping me up and making me feel really good. I was honestly just happy to be able to get out there and do something.”
Peacock said she was nervous when she found out she was going in.
“My heart started beating like really fast. I was pretty nervous,” Peacock said. “The second I stepped off of our team bench, it was the loudest cheer I’ve ever heard in my life. From all sides of the gym.
“It was just honestly really humbling and awe-inspiring that so many people were there supporting me and that cared about me. It was really cool.”
Finberg said getting her into a game was going to happen at some point, but after speaking with Kimberly and her father, Jim, before Thursday’s game, they felt that was the time to make her first appearance happen.
“We just kind of figured that if the opportunity was there and we had a lead, we’d be able to get her in for about a minute or a minute-and-a-half if we could and it worked out that way,” Finberg said. “We’re just extremely happy for her and extremely proud of the situation and how she’s handled everything.”
Finberg added that Kimberly, her father and himself were the only people who knew she would get into the game.
“Pretty special moment,” Finberg added, saying he hopes that by the end of the basketball season she’ll start getting a few more minutes and be back to normal by next season.
And for Peacock, the moment served as one more step toward her journey to finding what she wants most: normalcy.
“It felt normal,” Peacock said. “It was just kind of falling back into what I used to do. It was really nice to have some sense of normalcy.”
She said a few tears and a lot of hugs followed the game, including celebrating in the locker room now that the Wildkats sported a full team once again.
The Class A state cross country runner-up as a freshman in 2016, Peacock was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in the summer of 2017. Back in July, Peacock was released from the Denver Children’s Hospital after spending 70 days there receiving and recovering from a bone marrow transplant.
Peacock is currently in remission. She hasn’t returned to the high school yet and has instead been teaching herself at home. Her teachers send her the material and she learns it as best she can.
Though she said distractions are aplenty at home, she’s been able to maintain her 4.0 GPA.
“Right now I feel very healthy. I’m working my way back toward a normal high school life,” Peacock said. “I’m being really optimistic at this point and I haven’t really had the opportunity to feel optimistic about it before, so it’s really nice to be able to feel that way.
“It’s just making steady progress and hopefully getting back to being a normal teenager again.”