Lauren Hill: An appreciation

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Lauren Hill scores the first two points of her career, and the NCAA women's basketball season, vs. Hiram on Nov. 2.
Mount St. Joseph athletics photo 

By Pat Coleman

There are a couple of terms journalists use when writing about someone who has died. The traditional obituary can be a fairly impersonal recitation of someone's life and the circumstances under which they died.

A more personal take on a person's life could be called an appreciation, where the writer injects some of their personal feelings into the piece.

Both terms seem woefully inadequate to describe the life of Lauren Hill and her impact on society, let alone Division III basketball.

Hill, who passed away Friday, April 10, at age 19, touched the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Her story of grace and perseverance in the face of a rare, unbeatable disease, should inspire us all to be better people.

For Lauren Hill was a young lady who didn't take her disease, diffuse intrinsic potine glioma (DIPG), lying down. When diagnosed with this disease, a cancer of the brainstem for which there is no cure, in the fall of 2013, she could have easily chosen to give up, to check out of life and prepare to die. Instead, she fought, and she brought awareness to DIPG, and funding, which should accelerate the pace of research and hopefully sooner bring about an effective treatment, perhaps a cure.

Hill continued with her life. She graduated from Lawrenceburg (Ind.) High School. She committed to play basketball at Mount St. Joseph University, not knowing whether she would live long enough to fulfill that commitment. 

DIPG kills more than 90 percent of its victims within the first 12 months. But Lauren Hill survived long enough to take the floor on Nov. 2 vs. Hiram, in front of the largest crowd to ever see a Division III women's basketball game and with thousands more watching on TV. She hit a layup to score the first basket of the game, then came back at the end to hit the final bucket of a 66-55 win.

She gave interviews. She accepted awards and recognition from the likes of former University of Tennessee coaching legend Pat Summitt, herself suffering from an incurable disease. She signed literally hundreds of No. 22 jerseys donated by various colleges and professional teams across the nation, which were then auctioned off to raise money for DIPG research. She continued to give interviews.

And she continued to play. In the Lions' following game, on Nov. 21 vs. Bethany at Baldwin Wallace's tournament, Hill scored again. She continued to practice as much as she could. She couldn't make every road trip because of her health, but she was there with her teammates in spirit when she couldn't be there in person. After she could no longer play, she became a student assistant coach.

And she continued, and continues to inspire. Her fund raised more than a million dollars to research pediatric cancer, with more coming in all of the time. People tell and re-tell her story, and even though she only played a small role on the court in the 2014-15 Division III women's basketball season, hers is the story of the year, if not the story of the decade.

As the father of a teenage daughter, I cannot imagine what Hill went through, and what her family and friends will continue to deal with going forward. I only hope someday I or my daughters can summon the strength this young woman mustered through these 18 months living with DIPG.

So, to appreciate simply isn't enough. Respect isn't strong enough.

Instead, I stand in awe of what Lauren Hill accomplished.

And I'm not sure that's enough, either.