An Iowa Community Reminds Us to ‘Live Like Line’
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy
A simple song played in my mind all summer as a 14-year-old.
While shooting hoops in our backyard, soaring into the air (3 inches above the ground) and hitting the game winning jumper in some imagined game 7, a skinny, short, white kid, with no fingers and no game dreamed of being like Michael Jordan. Afterwards, I’d victoriously strut into the house, grab a refreshing Gatorade, wipe my sweaty forehead, and hear the words echo in my head: Like Mike. I want to be like Mike.
Perhaps the dream of hitting the game winning shot is no longer part of my future plans, but the idea of emulating someone bigger, better than me remains. But who that person is, and why they actually matter, has changed. Let me explain.
In 2010, the Iowa City West High School volleyball team enjoyed a most remarkable season. This team, coached by the indomitable Kathy Bresnahan and lead by their captain, Caroline Found, claimed their first ever state championship.
Shortly after the victory, their star player, Caroline (who preferred her nickname “Line”) learned her mother was diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer. Line, always upbeat and optimistic, brought her team together and made them promise that no matter what got in their way, they would practice, work, play and strive to win state title for her mother. The team agreed.
Coach Kathy Bresnahan and Team Face Unexpected Tragedy
As Line’s mother grew weaker, and just weeks before the start of their 2011 season, Coach Bresnahan received the painful call she’d been expecting.
A panicked, weeping player shouted into the phone that Line had just died. Coach Bresnahan tried to calm the player down. The coach reminded her that they knew this was possible, they’d been preparing for this, they were going to work together through this.
But the player screamed back, “No. Not Mrs. Found. It’s Line. Line was in a moped accident tonight. She’s dead!”
My friends, how should we respond when unexpected tragedy arrives? How do we move forward when perhaps the one we most need to lead us forward is no longer with us?
It wasn’t just the team that experienced this profound loss or had to determine how to move forward. The entire Iowa City West High School community mourned the loss of a friend.
The lively girl who liked to dance into school every morning and into the classroom every period wasn’t coming back. The one who sprinted down the hallway to hug a friend, fellow students, teachers, and even her principal after not seeing them for a very long time (like yesterday!) was no longer there.
In a beautifully illuminating story of Line’s vibrancy and love of others, Coach Kathy Bresnahan (who I interviewed on our most recent Live Inspired podcast…an amazing story…don’t miss it…listen here) shared how one of her students, who suffered from panic attacks brought on by large crowds, chose to eat alone in her classroom instead of in the cafeteria with 1,000+ students.
That is until Line asked if she could join the student for lunch in the quiet classroom. They spent many lunches over the course of a few weeks together, building a sincere friendship. One day, Line asked if he might now be comfortable joining her and her friends in the cafeteria for lunch. He joined her that day and was able to keep his anxiety at bay. And he enjoyed eating in the cafeteria through the rest of his time at West High School. What a remarkable gift.
He was not the only one to receive such a gift from Line.
At her memorial, not only did thousands from around the community attend, but numerous busses arrived from around the state of Iowa. Teams of volleyball players traveled hours to pay their respect to not only one of the fiercest competitors they ever played against, but one of the most remarkable girls they’d ever met.
You see, in addition to winning on the court, one of Line’s goals was to cut down the net between her team and the opponent. She viewed every match as an opportunity to create new friendships, new connections, new joy.
Line’s Legacy Inspires ‘The Miracle Season’
The volleyball season commenced.
While the captain, the leader, the heart and the soul of the team that won state the year before was not physically on the floor, her team committed to playing and enjoying the game of volleyball and life with the same vivacity and fervor as their friend, Line.
Although she wasn’t on the court, her high-top shoes were placed below her empty chair on the bench.
And though she wasn’t in the gym, her dad attended every game and cheered the team his daughter and wife so loved.
Surrounding dad, the stands were packed for every game with students’ arms linked tightly with one another in solidarity. Each student wore a tee shirt with a simple motto that brought together a team and the entire school that season: Live Like Line.
And after every victory (and there were many), the team raced over to the stands, joined arms- and then voices- with the crowd, and they belted out a song to honor their fallen friend: Sweet Caroline.
This team, this community, against overwhelming odds, came together to play, cheer, mourn, fight, and eventually claim their second state title.
So, who do you want to be like?
In the past I wanted to dribble down the court, hit the fade away jumper, slam sports drinks and be like Mike.
Now I want to be – and live – bigger than that. A different song echoes in my heart: Like Line. I want to be like Line.
This is your day. Live Inspired.
This article was originally published on #1 National Bestselling Author of ON FIRE and Inspirational Speaker John O’Leary’s Monday Motivation blog. John inspires the R.L. Thomas Service, Inc. and we’re honored to share his inspiration with you! Get his Monday Motivation in your inbox here and enjoy his daily inspiration on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube.
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