Lauren Hill inspires to never give up

Hill plays in her first collegiate game despite being terminally ill. (AP Photo)
Hill plays in her first collegiate game despite being terminally ill. (AP Photo)

It was assumed that the basketball world would center around Cleveland this week, as Lebron James returned to the Cavaliers. But as it turns out, the state of Ohio was home to an even greater basketball memory for the sports world. The country’s attention turned to Cincinnati’s Lauren Hill, an incredibly courageous young woman, whose story reminds us all why we love sports.

Hill is a freshman basketball player at Division III Mount St. Joseph Academy, and like many other young girls, her dream was always to play a college basketball game. But after months of question marks about whether she’d live to see that day, her dream came true on Sunday afternoon on the basketball court at MSJ.

Hill suffers from a rare form of brain cancer called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). It is an incurable disease that affects about 100 people in the U.S. every year. It is typically seen in young children and only a small percentage of people live over two years following their diagnosis. DIPG currently has a zero percent survival rate, according to an article on ESPN.go.com.

She was diagnosed with DIPG a month after she committed to play for Mount St. Joseph.  Rather than losing hope, Hill kept fighting to achieve her dream of playing college basketball and has become a spokesperson and an advocate for more research for this rare and deadly disease.

Over the past few weeks, Hill has been a social media phenomenon. The #Layup4Lauren Challenge has become very popular throughout the sports community. The objective of the challenge is to record yourself spinning around five times and making a left-handed layup. If you are unsuccessful, you are supposed to donate $10 to The Cure Starts Now. The idea behind the challenge is to give athletes and fans a perspective about what she deals with playing basketball. Tumors related to DIPG have caused Lauren to have migraines and has weakened the right side of her body, causing her to become more left hand dominant on the basketball court.

The challenge has been undertaken by Lebron James, WNBA legend Becky Hammon, Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton, the entire Kentucky basketball team, and many others. Along with the challenge, Hill’s story has been inspiring to millions of people, including Seahawks corner Richard Sherman and U.S. women’s soccer legend Mia Hamm. Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, whose daughter is fighting through cancer, wore the words “Lauren Strong” on his eye black during the Bengals’ game this Sunday.  Her story has also raised tremendous awareness about DIPG.

The Lauren Hill story culminated this past weekend when Mount St. Joseph played Hiram College. This game was originally scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 15 but both coaches agreed to move the game because it was uncertain whether Hill would have the strength to play in the originally scheduled game. Last year, Mount St. Joseph averaged 129 fans a game at home games, but this game had to be moved to Xavier’s Cintas Center, where the stadium’s capacity of over 10,000 seats sold out in less than a day. The game was also shown on various media outlets, most notably via live stream on FOX Sports GO.

All who saw or followed this game were witness to many emotional and exciting moments. Hill scored the first basket of the game on one of her “signature” left handed layups. She also scored the final basket of Mount St. Joseph’s 66-55 victory. At halftime, Hill received the Pat Summit Courage Award, which is usually given out during the women’s final four, but the selection committee unanimously decided to give her the award at this game.

After the game, Hill said in an interview, “Let’s not call this my last game. Let’s call this my first collegiate game.”

Lauren Hill is a truly inspirational athlete. From the time we were little kids, we’ve always been told to play sports with everything we have. We would take it for granted because we just expect that there will be a next game. In Lauren’s case, there very well might not be a next game, or even a next day. We can all learn a lesson from Hill that tomorrow is not guaranteed, so make sure to give your all toward whatever your passion may be.