I am so proud of my friends at Sports Faith International. They scored when ESPN dropped the ball. On May 18th, Sports Faith International inducted Lauren Hill to its Sports Faith Hall of Fame.
Sports Faith International is an organization that looks to “positively transform culture” through the world of sports. The organization produces media that feature personal testimonies of athletes who are living out their faith on and off the field. Lauren Hill was such an athlete.
When I learned of Lauren’s story, she was a 19-year-old girl dying from a form of cancer that infested her brain. In September of 2015, doctors told her she had only a few months to live. She died on April 10, 2015.
Lauren learned she had inoperable brain cancer toward the end of her senior year in high school. She already had been accepted to Mount St Joseph University and committed to playing on the team.
She is credited with the first basket of the 2014-15 college basketball season for Mt. St. Joseph’s College after the NCAA allowed Mount St. Joseph and Hiram College to move the game up two weeks hoping Hill would be healthy enough to play. Newspapers reported Mount St. Joseph games typically draw 100 fans, but the demand for tickets and media coverage made a site change necessary. Xavier University and employees volunteered their time and arena to host the game. A reported 10,000 fans flooded the stands at Xavier University to support her.
Lauren Hill scored four points that Sunday, and her team beat Hiram College, 66-55. Her first points came from a left-handed layup just 17 seconds into the game. With the basket, both teams gave Lauren a standing ovation as she exited the game. After sharing the moment with teammates, Lauren hugged her coach as he gave her the game ball. The game continued and Lauren took her seat on the bench. She spent most of the game on the bench wearing pink sunglasses and headphones because of the headaches and nausea caused by her tumor. Yet she still was slapping hands with her teammates as they subbed in and out of the game.
With one minute remaining in the game, the crowd called again for Lauren. With 30 seconds remaining, Mount St. Joseph’s coach called a timeout and Lauren returned to the floor; this time missing her layup attempt. However, her teammate rebounded the ball and passed it back to Lauren. With this try she scored a right-handed layup, to make the score 66-55.
Lauren was a right-handed shooter but at this point in her cancer she had lost much of the strength in the right side of her body. “The first basket was awesome because I was happy I made it on the first try,” Lauren said. “But I made the second with my right hand. So the second basket was just as sweet.”
Lauren’s heroics were not about basketball but life. She had hoped that her struggle with terminal brain cancer will spur more people to help fund research and find a cure. “Pediatric cancer-it’s underfunded,” Hill once said. She remembered her doctor saying that pediatric cancer needed a face. Her goal was to become the face that pediatric cancer needed to raise attention to the plight. She succeeded in that goal. Before she died, Lauren raised over 2 million dollars in funds for research and grants.
Lauren kept pushing back against the cancer that fatigued her. She called her treatments her “vicious circle of medicine.” Steroids caused her face to swell. Her cycle of feeling well and feeling poorly left her with terrible stomach aches and migraines. Yet, she pushed on. The Catholic Telegraph (10/27/2014) called Lauren “a witness to life.” Her battle showed us a better definition of “dying with dignity.” A friend of mine reminded me that Lauren was not Catholic. I wish I had the wit to reply at that moment “that’s ok, neither am I most days.” One does not have to be Catholic to have a story that inspires Catholics. God works through all his creation!
Lauren told ESPN: “Sometimes I’m winning, sometimes I won’t admit I’m losing, but it’s a constant struggle. Today I want to keep living and keep cherishing the moment. Knowing that there’s nothing they can do (to stop the cancer) is the hardest. All they can do is give me more steroids and help me through the death process. That’s the hardest.”
Every teen should hear her inspiration. Thank you Sports Faith International for again telling Lauren Hill’s story. Lauren reminded us that our lives are to be lived with a purpose. Not our purpose, but God’s.
I pray that when tested I will live as Lauren Hill taught us. Lauren Hill is a real hero – she will always be my hero. Lauren is not a fictional hero as in The Hunger Games, she didn’t run like Walter Payton or score like Michael Jordan.
She inspired us so much more than that.