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Porto: Lauren Hill

Poet A.E. Housman surely did not have Lauren Hill in mind when he wrote To An Athlete Dying Young. Lauren, a 19-year-old freshman basketball player at Mt. St. Joseph College in Cincinnati, died earlier this spring of brain cancer.Housman’s poem regards an early death as a blessing for the athlete, who otherwise must suffer from diminished skills and dwindling adulation over time. The poem says,

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Lauren Hill’s gender wasn’t the only reason that Mr. Housman didn’t have her in mind when he wrote. He assumed that the laurel wreath of athletic glory invariably withers quickly. But Lauren’s laurel will not wither because she earned it for touching lives, not scoring points. A young woman who volunteered to work at Lauren’s memorial service said, “She made you think: What am I doing with my life? How can I be a better person?”

Two months after her eighteenth birthday, Lauren received a devastating diagnosis of DIPG, an incurable pediatric cancer of the brainstem. She had less than two years to live.

Still, Lauren embraced both college and college basketball, determined to score a basket in a game despite her deteriorating condition. “I’m spreading awareness,” she said, “and teaching people to live in the moment because the next moment’s not promised.” In the fall of 2014, an MRI revealed that Lauren’s tumor had grown and she might not survive until the end of the year.

The NCAA permitted Mt. St. Joseph to start its basketball season early, and Xavier University donated its arena, so more than 10,000 people saw Lauren score on a layup seventeen seconds into the first game of the season. She used her left hand because the tumor had so affected her right side that she couldn’t shoot with her normally dominant right hand. Ultimately, Lauren appeared in four games and scored ten points before she could no longer play.

But Lauren Hill’s life was about much more than points scored in basketball games. She raised $1.5 million for research into pediatric cancer. She inspired everyone around her to devote themselves to things larger than themselves. While dying, she showed us how to live. For that, her laurel will not wither, but will instead remain vibrant forever.