By Dave Andrusko
No one, least of all me, would be surprised by the outpouring of “high fives” and tears for 19-year-old college freshman Lauren Hill, whom we talked about earlier this week. Hill, a freshman at Mount St. Joseph University, is gamely battling terminal brain cancer, which she refused to allow to stop her from fulfilling one of her bucket list items: playing in a college basketball game.
I suppose it’s no big deal in the cosmic scheme of things, but Hill is now featured on her own Wheaties’ box. But, on the other hand, that puts her in some very rarified company and is yet another signal just how her courage has struck such a responsive chord.
When we talked about Hill on Tuesday, I overlooked an important part of the story. At half-time, legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt presented the Pat Summitt Most Courageous Award to Lauren.
Summit, the epitome of courage in her own way, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2011. “She yielded the floor to one of her former players, Tamika Catchings, to present Lauren with the award,” according to Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
As a high school senior, Lauren was diagnosed with a very deadly form of brain cancer– Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG)–which is inoperable. She underwent nearly a year of chemotherapy and radiation. In September doctors told her she had months to live, her brain tumor the size of a lemon. But this young woman is nothing if not determined.
Her school convinced its opponent, Hiram, to move the game forward to accommodate her declining health. Here’s Daugherty’s portrait of what happened:
In the pregame layup line, Lauren’s teammates shot with their non-dominant hands, in tribute to Lauren, whose cancer has affected her right side and thus her own dominant shooting hand. …
Lauren heard her name announced as part of the starting lineup. Fifteen seconds into the game, she crossed the lane from right to left, took a pass and made a left-handed layup. Mount coach Dan Benjamin called timeout. His girls mobbed Lauren at center court.
“The look on her face was priceless,” Hiram coach Emily Hays said Monday.”She had that big smile. I’m like, ‘That’s why we’re here.’ It’s more emotional now than it was even at the game. It kind of hits you even more when you’re looking back at it.”
Hill came back into the game in the closing seconds to score another basket in her team’s 66-55 win. Standing at center court, Hill said, “Today has been the best day I’ve ever had.” Daugherty, who was there, wrote
She cried then, we all did, but just for a second. It could have been a day for tears, buzzer to buzzer, but crying would have missed the point. Besides, that’s not Lauren’s style, either.
She came to a news conference after the game, unassuming and a little overwhelmed but no less eloquent. She was poetic, in fact:
“It was so thrilling,” she decided, “to feel the roar of the crowd and the vibration of the floor boards. I just feel so blessed.”
Daugherty’s conclusion was perfect:
Lauren Hill will tell you she lived her dream Sunday. Lauren knows the wisdom of living fully in the moment, and she has the poise to actually pull it off. She wants you to know it, too.