|Lauren Hill has been remembered in arenas across the U.S.
Photo by David Richard, USA TODAY Sports
By Adam Turer
CINCINNATI – The last time we spoke to Lauren Hill was unexpected. She had just made her home court debut at Mount St. Joseph University’s Harrington Center, after a fitful night of sleep that kept her awake since 4 a.m. Her coaches and parents told us there was no chance she’d be available for a postgame interview. Lauren, as she so often did, surprised us all, volunteering her time to deliver a passionate and emotional nine minute interview.
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She spoke of the joy and excitement of reaching her goal of playing on her home court for the first time. She broke down in tears when she spoke of all those children younger than her afflicted by DIPG and how she felt an obligation to be that voice for the voiceless. She issued the following challenge:
“I challenge everybody to find the blessing in every moment. Even the moments that you’re feeling down and bad, there’s something good in every moment. And everybody needs to search for that and fight for that.”
After that day, we struggled to fall asleep at night, dreading the inevitable morning when we would wake up to a news feed we never wanted to read. Not Lauren, though. Lauren kept living, kept fighting to find the good in every moment.
Lauren made it to Christmas, then to the end of the basketball season, past her father Brent’s April birthday and through Easter. She continued to speak up and speak out to raise funds and awareness to find the home run cure for cancer. She never stopped her fight and, as she knew she would, she kicked cancer’s butt.
Now, it’s up to us to continue her fight, to help Lauren reach her goals. That was the message delivered before another large crowd at Xavier University’s Cintas Center on Monday, April 13.
One hundred and sixty-two days after Lauren scored the first basket of the women’s college basketball season in this same arena, thousands of friends, family, and admirers gathered to celebrate Lauren’s life. It was a life that ended far too soon, but that set an example to people of all ages on how we should strive to live our lives each day.
The Cure Starts Now declared Monday a day of giving in honor of Lauren and encouraged everyone inspired by Lauren to pay it forward.
The public memorial began with a two-and-a-half hour visitation in a Cintas Center banquet room, allowing attendees to sign a guestbook and make donations to honor Lauren. Once the service moved to the arena, the crowd was treated to a soundtrack handpicked by Lauren.
Beside the stage, a lone basketball hoop stood, with the clock set to 22:00 and the shot clock set to 22.
Once the procession began with the Hill family following Lauren’s casket, an unavoidable sadness filled the arena, as attendees struggled to hold back tears when thinking of how much more Lauren could have done if she was only given more time. But there was also a sense of joy and peace, knowing that Lauren was no longer in pain, and realizing the magnitude of the impact she made on this world in less than 20 years.
Lauren’s family was joined on the court by her Lawrenceburg High School and Mount St. Joseph teammates and coaches, followed by Hiram University’s women’s basketball team. The Terriers formed a close bond with the Lions program when they sacrificed their home opener to be a part of the rescheduled season opener on this same court. Lauren’s former teammates passed her high school and college jerseys to their coaches, who laid each a 22 on top of Lauren’s casket. In front of the casket, her teammates placed a basketball on top of a net. Brooke and Keith Desserich, co-founders of The Cure Starts Now, hung Lauren’s superhero cape for all to see.
Doctor John Trokan, religious studies professor at Mount St. Joseph, reflected on the last time we were gathered at the Cintas Center with Lauren. He read the most inspirational words of the evening, which came directly from Lauren herself.
Doctor Mariko DeWire spoke of Lauren’s bravery. Lauren’s strength will go a long way to helping doctors find a cure for DIPG, which they hope unlocks the cure for other cancers. She introduced a slideshow of photos of Lauren with her family and teammates, set to the song Hero by Enrique Iglesias, the final song to play on Lauren’s iPod in her last moments.
Brad Johansen, the local sports anchor and reporter who brought Lauren’s story to the masses and developed a close bond with the Hill family in the process, shared memories of his time with Lauren. He could not help but smile when thinking of Lauren’s selflessness and relentless positivity. The video he and his news team produced to honor Lauren aired on the center court screens.
Corey Potts, Lauren’s pastor from her hometown of Lawrenceburg, Ind., spoke to Lauren’s indomitable strength and grace, her courage and determination. In the same arena where Lauren received her first standing ovation of the season, Potts led the crowd in another standing ovation for No. 22.
Sister Nancy Bramlage, the director of mission and ministry at Mount St. Joseph, shared words of inspiration and comfort that we can all draw from Lauren and her mission and prayed for those of us left behind to carry on Lauren’s legacy.
When Lauren’s personal anthem Roar by Katy Perry played her off the court, there was not a dry eye in the arena. She received yet another standing ovation, and was followed by her family and teammates, past the spot on the court where she made her historic layup.
There was another time we spoke to Lauren, between her season opener and her home debut. There was no news conference, and there were no interviews. There was no crowd of hundreds, let alone thousands. It was at a fundraiser at a local restaurant, one of many events Lauren and her family bravely attended to help bring attention to their fight for the cure. Lauren had no obligation to speak, but she took the time to greet every young person who approached her.
That was Lauren. She might be the most genuine, most real person we have ever met. She never had to turn it on for the cameras. She made an impact on the world by being herself, and by letting the world know that it’s okay to feel pain, it’s okay to be sad, but that even during those moments, there is still so much good worth fighting for in the world.
That evening at the fundraiser, there was a 10-year-old boy who wanted to meet Lauren and tell her how much she has inspired him. By just talking with him for a few minutes, she made a lasting impact, stronger than she ever could have realized.
On Monday night, that 10-year-old boy sat next to me at the Cintas Center, wearing an oversized 22 jersey from UVa-Wise, one of dozens of colleges and universities to donate jerseys which Lauren signed and The Cure Starts Now auctioned off to raise money to find a cure. As speaker after speaker delivered powerful messages about what Lauren taught us all in her short time with us, tears flowed from the young boy’s eyes.
On the drive home, he couldn’t help but smile. He realized how fortunate he was to accomplish something that just about every child dreams of doing at some point.
He got to meet a real-life superhero.
To help Lauren reach her goal of raising $2.2 million, please donate here: https://curestartsnow.z2systems.com/np/clients/curestartsnow/campaign.jsp?campaign=199&