College player fights tumor for moment on court
Lauren Hill is the last player to take the court for the 6 a.m. stretch. It's right before basketball practice. She's moving slowly.
The freshman wearing the blue No. 22 Mount St. Joseph jersey has days like this lately. Days when the tumor squeezing her brain also saps her energy. It robs her of coordination. Days when it would be easy just to stay in bed.
Not a chance. She makes sure no opportunity gets wasted.
"That's kind of how I look at it," Hill said during an interview. "I'm spreading awareness and also teaching people how to live in the moment because the next moment's not promised. What matters is right now."
The school's opening game was moved up to Nov. 2.. The scheduling change gives Hill a better shot to get on the court. It might be the only chance she may get before the tumor that hinders her play claims her life.
After the move, Xavier University offered its 10,000-seat arena so more people could attend. The game sold out.
College basketball players and sports teams from around the country are signing No. 22 jerseys and sending them to Lauren for support. The United States Basketball Writers Association has voted her for the Pat Summitt most courageous award. That's usually given out at the Final Four.
"This is an amazing young lady who's made an impact on the world," said coach Dan Benjamin, wearing a gray "Play for 22" T-shirt. "I wish everybody could meet her."
Hill played basketball and soccer in nearby Lawrenceburg, Indiana. On her 18th birthday last October, she decided to commit to play basketball at The Mount, as it's known locally. A few weeks later, she started feeling bad.
Tests found the cancerous tumor growing throughout her brain. Surgery wasn't an option. Six weeks of radiation, an experimental drug and two months of chemotherapy didn't help much. Doctors estimated she had a year to live.
"I try not to try really hard not to but it's hard to not think about down the road," she said.
While she prepares to play, she does as much as she can each day to raise awareness about pediatric cancer. She hopes donations might fund research that gives others a chance of beating the disease.
A lot of people are going out of their way to get to know the ponytailed, 5-foot-10 player who is showing everyone what it means to live each day fully.
NCAA President Mark Emmert called to offer encouragement. The school's president, Tony Aretz, stopped by with his wife to watch her practice and chat with Hill and her mom. And to watch No. 22 push herself as far as she can on the court.
"She's living with courage when a lot of people are afraid to live," Aretz said.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Devon Still stopped in unexpectedly last week. Still's 4-year-old daughter, Leah, has cancer. He has worked with the NFL team to raise more than $1 million for pediatric cancer treatment.
"It's like she's beyond her years," Still said. "She understands her purpose. In her 19 years of being here on Earth, she's done a lot more than a lot of older people have done."
Critical thinking challenge: What is Laurens purpose?