Basketball player Lauren Hill, who inspired millions with her courage, dies at 19


Video courtesy WKRC

Lauren Hill, the college basketball player who played in four games for Mount St. Joseph this season despite having an inoperable brain tumor, and who raised more than $1.5 million in efforts to find a cure for the rare cancer, died Friday. She was 19.

Hill outlived her doctor’s predictions that she would not survive past December. Because of that forecast, Mount St. Joseph petitioned the NCAA to move its season-opener against Hiram College up to Nov. 2, 2014, to honor Hill’s wishes to play in one collegiate game.

Hill not only played, but she scored the first bucket of the game, a layup. She scored another layup later, and her team won, 66-55. The game was moved to Xavier University’s 10,000-seat Cintas Center to accommodate the large crowd supporting Hill.

Afterward, she tried to describe how it all felt.

“I never thought I would play on a college court, put my feet on the floor and feel the vibration of the crowd,” Hill told reporters. “This game has been amazing, and everything that happened today was amazing. This is a really good day.”

She continued, “Today has been the best day I’ve ever had. Thank you. I don’t know what else to say but thank you.”

Hill was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) just 48 days after committing to play basketball at Mount St. Joseph in October 2013. The tumor progressed rapidly, to the point where her doctors gave her just weeks to live in the fall of 2014.

Hill, however, defied the odds, playing in three more games for Mount St. Joseph, and scoring five layups, in all.

Hill’s courage inspired those around her.

“Lauren Hill’s bravery, enthusiasm and strength were an inspiration not only to those who knew her best but also to the millions of people she touched around the world by sharing her story,” said NCAA president Mark Emmert. “Lauren achieved a lasting and meaningful legacy, and her beautiful spirit will continue to live on. Our hearts go out to her family, friends, teammates and coaches.”

“When I first met her, I knew she was something special — I just didn’t know what, and I didn’t know why,” teammate Brilyn Webb told WKRC-TV in a February interview. “When she took that bucket and made the shot and made all her dreams come true, I figured it out.”

Hill’s mother, Lisa, provided updates on her daughter’s illness on a Facebook page dedicated to Lauren. In mid-February, she said Lauren told her, “I can’t believe I made it through the whole season. Life is unpredictable.”

Not only did Hill make it through the whole season, but she was named to the all-conference team for the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, was runner-up for the 2014 Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, had her picture on a Wheaties box, and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree in humane letters from Mount St. Joseph.

And through it all, the Lawrenceburg, Indiana, native fought to raise awareness and money to help find a cure for DIPG. She began a foundation called “The Cure Starts Now,” and started a layup challenge called “Layups for Lauren.” Participants were required to spin around five times and then shoot a layup with their non-dominant hand — to simulate the dizziness and weakness Hill experienced because of her tumor. Failing to make the layup meant a $10 donation to the cause.

Hill’s goal was to raise $2.2 million for DIPG — the number to match the 22 she wore on her jersey.

“Everybody thought she’d be this small, tiny voice instead of this big lion roar,” Mount St. Joseph coach Dan Benjamin told the Associated Press. “She’s done a great job with that. And the money she’s raised: Everybody thought she’d get some money, but [$1.4 million] is amazing.”

Hill remained upbeat even as she entered hospice care in December, smiling through the team post-season banquet that was moved her hospital room.

“Day by day I hope my message has resided through everyone, that just even more that it’s precious every amount of time you get with someone, no material item matters,” Hill told WKRC-TV. “Every moment you get with someone is a moment that is blessed, really blessed.”


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Jodie Valade

Jodie Valade

Jodie Valade is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, NC.