This past weekend my husband and I were invited to attend an induction dinner for former student athletes and coaches into our local High School’s Hall of Fame. One of our friends of many year was being honored for his successful years coaching cross-country, basketball and track. This night was dedicated to honoring one of our best friends, a swimming coach, three former students athletes and old-timers from the class of 1946 who brought happiness to the lives of many, grabbing a 3rd place state basketball trophy.
I spent all night seeing former students and dabbing my eyes as each special person was announced. Every recipient gave a speech telling a few funny stories and thanking those who helped them on their journeys. The last student speaker, however, held my full and undivided attention. His former high school coach introduced him, telling all of us of his skill and the accolades that he had acquired in high school…then pausing, he gulped and said,
“but the moment I remember most was going to see this wonderful young man in the hospital after his first surgery. Patrick had cancer, the spring of his senior year…he was just at the beginning of his new life, college plans all decided…swimming in the mix at a Division I school. I expected to see a depressed young man in a hospital room, instead I saw a person ready to fight, full of optimism, hope. I knew that he would win the battle.”
When Patrick got up to speak he thanked all his parents, coaches, his friends in high school and college and his wife who is an English teacher. He also thanked Jesus Christ his Savior and Lord and then started joking about it was hard when he was a freshman, trying to find his niche, and of taking grief from the football players and wrestlers who didn’t even know that swimming was a sport at our high school (our swimmers have to borrow pools to practice and have meets in).
Towards the end of his speech he grew fairly quiet. He said that there are many others in his life that made a profound impact and they don’t often receive any recognition for all their hard work. Patrick said,
“Teachers matter; one actually saved my life.’
He closed with a story of a reading teacher that he had in one of his high school years. He sheepishly admitted that this teacher hadn’t even been a favorite. However, this man had literally saved his life with a book. A book? I sat up in my chair and leaned in, waiting for title.
Knowing that Patrick was an athlete, he gave him this book to read, It’s Not about the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, written by Lance Armstrong. Patrick proceeded forward in his talk.
“I hope someone will share this story with my former teacher because I have never thanked him.”
I read the opening chapter of this very powerful biography today. In it Lance details his symptoms of testicular cancer and how he almost went to the Dr. too late. The cancer had already moved to his lungs and his brain. Patrick had similar symptoms, recognized them and acted. What a tribute to teachers…what a tribute to books! It was an unexpected moment for all of us, one that I will cherish.