Three years strong: FSU swimmer Ari Ottavianelli celebrates third year

Florida State Swimmer Arianna Ottavianelli celebrated her third year of being cancer-free Sunday, two days after the dual meet between the ’Noles and Gators.

Raised in Iowa, Ottavianelli couldn’t wait to get down to the Sunshine State. She was enrolled in the FSU Summer C school session for swim pre-season, but the COVID pandemic prohibited her from moving down. She counted the days until she could swim at Florida State.

Not long before she was to arrive on campus, she received the horrible news.

The signs began a few months before in 2020. Ottavianelli knew something was off as she frequented the emergency room for stomach pains. She didn’t know it at the time, but a common side effect of blood cancer is feeling itchy. She felt like she had always been scratching her skin and the itching would just never stop.

It took a while for an official diagnosis to be made.

The doctors could not find anything wrong at first and said she could have been suffering from anxiety. They then came back to say she had kidney stones. A few weeks later, she had gotten COVID and was having major trouble breathing. They ran different tests and took an X-ray of her chest where the results showed swollen lymph nodes covering her entire chest.

After sending her scans to the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, she was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma, the most severe stage.

“I was supposed to leave for school in five days when I got the call that I had cancer,” Ottavianelli said. “I felt completely blindsided, in one week it went from ‘it possibly could be cancer’ to ‘it actually is.’

The timing couldn’t have been worse.

One of the first people she gave a phone call to was FSU Head Swim Coach Neal Studd. Studd gave her support and reassured her that her spot would still be here on the team. He gave her a bit of relief by telling her to focus on her health and that he would be there to help her get back in the pool when she gets down to campus.

“I would honestly just sleep all day and be up for an hour at a time. I vividly remember during that time I watched the 25 Days of Christmas with my family. In the moment I wished I was anywhere else but looking back, I made the most out of my situation and I’m grateful to have an amazing support system.”

Ottavianelli completed her final treatment on Jan. 28, 2021. A week later, she moved to Tallahassee, even with the treatment still not fully out of her body. 

“My whole goal was to make it to Florida State my first year. I wanted to stay in a dorm and have that whole experience.” 

She was finally cleared to swim for the ’Noles in April and swam in her first meet in the fall semester of 2021. Every day since, she has been putting in the effort and working on her endurance.

“While I may not be the swimmer I used to be, I need to be easy on myself and understand it takes my body longer to recover than it used to. I feel like I’ve also switched my attitude about swimming to be more geared towards being grateful that I even can be on the team and still swim at a D1 level.

While cancer certainly did not define who she is, she says it contributed to her becoming the strong and positive person she is today.

Ottavianelli has appeared in meets for three straight years now at Florida State. She was the recipient of the Doc Fauls Rise Above Adversity Award for the 2022-2023 season.

“Three years being cancer-free is so big for me because the chances of cancer returning have gone drastically to the percentage of any average teenager. So to me, this is the marker of finally being over it.”

“This time has just been so exciting, I even did a photoshoot with Lucky Charms since I just know it will be my lucky year.”



Gideon Canice

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