In sports and leadership, we are sometimes guilty of overusing the word “courage”. We talk about a player making a courageous play or having courage to return from an injury. We talk about a leader having the courage to make difficult decisions. Yes, these situations may be challenging for a player or leader, but do they take the type of courage that some real-life situations require? The soldier going off to battle needs courage. The person who lost a loved one and needs to carry on with life needs courage. The person diagnosed with a terminal illness needs courage. So, we need to be careful about using the word “courage” when we describe events in sports or leadership.
But I came across a sports situation last week that truly does exemplify courage. Lauren Hill is a freshman basketball player at Division III Mount St. Joseph University. According to ESPN.com, just 48 days after committing to Mount St. Joseph to play basketball, Lauren was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a rare pediatric brain cancer that normally affects children between the ages of 5 and 7. Lauren was diagnosed as a senior in high school. In September, just two months ago, and 11 months after she was first diagnosed, Lauren was told she had just a few months to live.
So with her last few months, Lauren has decided to spread the word about DIPG. She wants to be a voice for the many young kids who are affected but can’t express their feelings or communicate well enough to raise awareness about this disease that has a zero percent survival rate.
A couple weeks ago, Mount St. Joseph opened the college basketball season with a game against Hiram College. The game was moved to an earlier date to insure that Lauren Hill could play. But the date wasn’t the only thing to move. Lauren did such a good job spreading the word about DIPG, that the game was moved to Xavier University to accommodate the large crowd. On the day of the game, Mount St. Joseph (a team that normally plays in front of 100 fans) and Hiram played in front of 10,000 fans. Lauren Hill was in the starting lineup and scored the first two points of the game.
Lauren Hill knows she has inoperable brain cancer. She knows her time is limited. Yet she has devoted this precious time to creating awareness about DIPG. By informing others about this deadly disease, Lauren wants to help children that have been, or will be, diagnosed. Hopefully, this awareness will lead to greater support and more research toward finding a cure for pediatric brain cancer.
Lauren achieved her dream of playing college basketball. In addition to those two points to start the game, she also scored the final two points of the game. But more importantly, she touched thousands of fans who now know about DIPG. We cannot imagine the courage Lauren Hill has needed since that diagnosis a year ago. She has stayed positive and focused her efforts on helping others with the disease, and still more who will be diagnosed. She has displayed unbelievable courage. And yes, this is one time that use of the word “courage” is appropriate in sports.
Thanks for reading,
P.S. – Check out my website at http://www.jvearle.com and keep me in mind if you hear of any opportunities to share my thoughts on leadership.