By David Cohn
In November 2014, at Xavier University’s Cintas Center, a 19-year-old freshman, Lauren Hill, checked into her first career college basketball game. She took a perfect feed from her teammate, and with perfect form, lofted a layup off the backboard for two. Moments later, she would exit the game, and the entire crowd of 10,000 fans would stand and cheer for her.
In comparison to that moment, the rest of the college basketball season becomes irrelevant. Kentucky’s run at perfection? Inconsequential. Coaches Krzyzewski and Auriemma adding another title to their illustrious legacies? Not important. Why are these other storylines, that would seemingly define any college basketball season, suddenly immaterial? Because the story of Lauren Hill transcends basketball, as Lauren was not an ordinary college basketball player. Rather, she was an extraordinary young woman who inspired a nation, as she pursued her dream of playing college basketball even while she was battling for her life with a terminal diagnosis of diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, a rare form of brain cancer.
Lauren passed away on Friday after a courageous struggle with cancer, but the impact of her time on the court, and her subsequent efforts to raise awareness for the cause of pediatric cancer research, which is desperately in need of increased funding, will continue to move our country. How large was Lauren’s impact? Well, you need look no further than the athletes and leaders who honored Lauren’s memory and legacy in letters and on social media over the weekend. In particular, LeBron James wrote a touching letter on Twitter, recognizing Lauren for her leadership and strength of will. In short, even among the most successful people in our society, Lauren stands alone in her ability to win in our world’s largest and most important arena: the arena of life.
Until we officially meet again, take care and continue to be that LEADER we all love! #RIPLaurenHill Sincerely, LeBron James
— LeBron James (@KingJames) April 10, 2015
What makes Lauren’s courage all the more remarkable to me was her willingness to publically share her story in the name of helping others in the hopes that one day, we will live in a world where cancer no longer kills millions of people, taking loved ones and friends painfully too soon.
Lauren could have spent her time with family and friends, privately enjoying the company of those most important to her. Instead, she chose to play, to go to college and to allow all of us to join her on her journey of these last 17 months, even if it meant dealing with the physical and emotional pain of cancer in the public eye.
Yet, Lauren remained undeterred. When her body ached from receiving chemotherapy and radiation regimens, she nevertheless played in four games, scoring 10 incredible points. When she could no longer play for Mount Saint Joseph’s University, she became an Assistant Coach for her college team while also raising over $1 million for The Cure Starts Now Foundation, a charity dedicated toward funding pediatric cancer research. All the while, she lived by, in her words, continuing to “find the light in every moment,” while also never forgetting who she fighting for: her family, her friends and, in the words of ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, for the children with pediatric cancer who “couldn’t play, live or speak.”
In the end, for so many, including myself, Lauren Hill is a hero, a champion in every sense of the word whose heart and selflessness was simply remarkable. In the face of death itself, Lauren lived and achieved her dreams, while also showing us the tremendous potential associated with the human spirit.
Prayers to you, your family and your friends, Lauren. May you rest in peace.
We can only echo the final paragraph of this column. Send your thoughts to David at dmcohn ‘at’ stanford.edu, and send your prayers to the Hill family.