This article was originally published by USA TODAY Sports
Lauren Hill touched a nation with her desire to play for Mount St. Joseph’s women’s basketball team, even as she battled an inoperable brain tumor.
Her resolve, spirit and courage were celebrated Nov. 2 when she realized her dream at Xavier University’s Cintas Center. Cheered on by a sold-out crowd of 10,250 and a television audience, Hill scored the first and last basket of the Mount’s 66-55 victory over Hiram College.
She passed away Friday at the age of 19.
Mount St. Joseph’s will hold a celebration and prayer service on its campus to honor her.
“We are forever grateful to have had Lauren grace our campus with her smile and determined spirit,” said Mount St. Joe president Tony Aretz.
Hill death was acknowledged by several celebrities, including LeBron James, who wrote a series of tweets.
The Indiana native said at the game her goal was is to find a cure for cancer. Hill was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma shortly after her 18th birthday. The rare form of brain cancer typically affects young children ages 4 to 9.
“When I was diagnosed I remember kind of feeling lonely because nobody understood. And now that more people know about this story and the awareness of DIPG. I’m so happy that people know about it now and that we can get some research going and hopefully find that home run cure for cancer,” Lauren said.
“And even though I’m probably not going to be around to see it, it’s going to help a lot of people. And that’s why we need to keep staying with this and not end it with this game, and keep supporting research.”
An announced $40,000 was raised the day of the game for The Cure Starts Now Foundation and pediatric cancer research. Overall, her nonprofit foundation has helped to raise more than $1.5 million for cancer research.
“Through Lauren’s fundraising and advocacy efforts, she not only became a spotlight on the lack of funding for cancer research, but she most certainly has become a beacon guiding researchers for years to come,” The Cure Starts Now co-founder Brooke Desserich said.
Dr. Mariko DeWire, Lauren’s physician at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said fundraising has allowed doctors to study DIPG more closely in the last five years. The condition is incurable.
DeWire explained what Hill endured physically at the basketball game – that loud noises affected her balance and bright lights bothered her. The forward wore sunglasses and headphones on the bench and earplugs throughout. None of it stopped her from having a memorable day in the short time she played, or gracefully accepting a halftime award from legendary Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt.
“As you can see, Lauren is strong. She was going to rock it, and she did,” Dr. DeWine said. “She did more than rock it.”
The NCAA granted an exemption for the game to be played ahead of schedule so she could participate. It was an emotional day for Lions coach Dan Benjamin, who said Hill committed to the Mount in October of 2013 and told the staff 49 days later that she had the tumor.
Coach and player bonded instantly, and then the team followed suit.
“The two biggest thing we wanted to accomplish is team and team chemistry, and Lauren helped us do that. But along the way she’s made a lot of our girls become very mature, which is apparent. That’s what you always want to do. You want your kids to understand what life’s about,” Benjamin said.
“And here instead of me teaching them, it was Lauren teaching them. She’s made a great impact on these young ladies. I think they’re going to remember this life lesson forever and hopefully they carry it out and help her carry the mission in their own lives.”
The #Layup4Lauren initiative benefitting The Cure Starts Now was also a hit. Challenges were issued for people to spin five times and attempt a layup with their non-dominant hands so they knew what it felt like for Lauren to play. Bengals players Andrew Whitworth and Andy Dalton were among the first to take the challenge; San Antonio Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon and Denver Nuggets guard Randy Foye also took part.
Hill sat with her mother, Lisa, and father, Brent, in the Nov. 2 post-game press conference at Xavier and admitted she didn’t know how many people she had touched. Lisa Hill felt awestruck.
“I’m not even sure how all of this happened,” Lisa Hill said. “It is absolutely amazing to see Lauren chase after her dream of playing basketball and become a voice for DIPG, and just taking her job really seriously and giving that 110 percent. I don’t know that either one of us could be any prouder of her. And we love her so much.”
Said Brent Hill: “I think today I’m probably the proudest father on the earth. Not that I haven’t always been, but it’s just that much stronger. In just the past couple weeks it’s been amazing with all the support from everybody around the country. And we just hope and pray that we can continue this journey and help these kids coming down the road, because we’ve got to stop it.”
Lauren, who has a brother, Nate, and sister, Erin, called her college debut “amazing.” It was, she said, the best day she’d ever had.
But it wasn’t her only day in collegiate books. She made a right-handed lay-up in the Mount’s Nov. 21 game against Bethany. Hill played in four games and scored 10 points before her condition forced her to stop playing.
She was honored at local sporting events, from a University of Cincinnati women’s basketball game to a Cincinnati Cyclones outing, and was featured on a Wheaties box and a NBA Live 15 cover. She also struck up a friendship with Bengals player Devon Still, whose young daughter, Leah, is battling cancer. Lauren surprised the defensive tackle with a signed jersey Nov. 20.
Hill was selected to the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference first-team after the season.
“This award is being presented to Lauren in recognition of her courage and outstanding leadership,” HCAC Commissioner, Chris Ragsdale said. “Lauren has been a tremendous inspiration and role model for all student-athletes across the country. She has shown through her leadership and dedication how one individual can truly make a difference.”