Today on the campus of the University of Notre Dame there is a memorial mass for a student who died yesterday afternoon. You may have seen or read about the story; Declan Sullivan was filming the football team during practice, and the entire team witnessed the accident that led to Declan’s death.
I was truly saddened to hear of this accident yesterday. It was an accident (that from preliminary indications was) caused by weather- Just as our bus accident was caused by weather. But right now the nature of the accident doesn’t really matter.
There is a young life, a 20-year-old, gone too soon. There is a family in mourning and a campus in shock, grief and disbelief. There is a team trying to absorb and make sense of what they saw. These are emotions that I know all too well, and they come back very quickly - no matter how long it has been.
As much as this is not about me, I can not help but feel the pain of Declan’s friends. Many of us have felt that pain. My teammates and I struggled with death at a young age. I know the emotions that will run through the team and the video department: what if? anger, shock, sadness, confusion.
When tragedy happens, we have to mourn. We have to mourn and we have to give ourselves time to heal, and we have to give ourselves the best chance at healing. And although it is the site of the sadness (and was for me), Notre Dame is a wonderful place to heal. It is a faith-filled community (even for those of us who were not Catholic); it is a powerful and prayerful community that will strengthen you when you don’t even know you are weak. None of us are immune from tragedy in our lives and all of us need a community like this to help make sense of the non-sensical.
My heart is broken for the Sullivan family. My soul aches for his friends and classmates, and my eyes are teary for the many emotions that this community will face in the coming days and weeks. God Bless all of you - at Notre Dame and beyond - who are hurting in sadness for whatever reason at this time. You are in our prayers.
It is a small world.
Last week I spoke at Salisbury University where Jill, the head swimming coach (and assistant athletic director) used to be the swimming coach at a college in Michigan. In 1992, Jill’s team swam St. Mary’s (the girls’ school across the road from Notre Dame) in January - the week before our bus accident. They swam at Rolfs Aquatic Center, in our pool, and Jill recalls being in the locker room at the same time as we were.
I do not remember this, but their coach does. She remembers because the following week she and her team were so shaken by the news of the Notre Dame swim team bus accident. They had just been there; they were just at “our” pool; they had just seen us so alive and carefree - not knowing what would happen in a few short days.
I find stories like this fascinating. I do not have an image of myself just prior to the accident. Some of it is a blur, some of it was just too long ago. So it was interesting to speak with someone who had a connection to our team - from a distance - and yet was able to provide such insight into how wide-spread the effects of our accident was felt.
Jill is now coaching on the east coast, again just two hours from where I live. She asked me to speak to her teams and the athletic department as a whole. It was an honor to do so - and mutually enjoyable, I believe. She got to hear the rest of my story to date, and I was privileged to share how our team impacted her team 18 years ago. It is a small world within the swimming community.
I attended an iRelaunch workshop last week in New York City. iRelaunch is geared towards women who are looking to re-enter the workforce after a “career break,” usually due to the decision to stay at home to raise a family. The room was filled with inspiring women - about 80% of whom had advanced degrees and yet many of them felt unqualified to work in their field of expertise after staying home for anywhere from six months to 26 years.
It was inspiring to listen to Vivian and Carol (the co-leaders of the conference; both hold Harvard MBAs with nine kids between them) talk about many of the same feelings all women have as they decide whether or not - or when and how - to reenter the work place while being a mother as well.
I often struggle with the questions: “Do you work?” and “What do you do?” I have no concrete answers and do not hold a 9-to-5 job; however, to say that I do not work would be misleading. While I do not have a conventional, easy-to-explain job, I do work. And yet, who does have a conventional job these days? Some do, but many do not (especially working mothers).
While the workshop included many helpful tools, such as how to write a resume to reflect a career break or how best to network yourself back in to a particular field of employment, the emotional discussions were most helpful to me. In talking to one lady at the conference she said to me, “Take ownership of your story and career! You are an author and a speaker and a mother; be proud of that!”
She is right. Each time someone asks me what I do, it is an opportunity to share a piece of my story. Who knows where they are in their life, or what they might need to hear. Like the guy on the train on the way home who asked me just this question….he happened to be a former college soccer player who was injured and not able to finish his career. Had I not taken ownership of my story and taken the risk to share it with him, I might have lost that opportunity to connect with him. To me that was a sign that I was doing the right thing and another affirmation that this story should continue to be told.
I just finished Three Days of Inspiration! Wow. 2000 walkers, 60 miles, 3 days, $5.3 million raised for breast cancer research. Mothers, Sisters, Friends - new and old - I had them all with me on the Journey.
I decided to do The Walk this year because it is the 20th anniversary of my mom’s breast cancer diagnosis. But that’s history, and I do not tend to dwell on the past. What I have learned to do, however, is use the past to my advantage in looking towards the future. And so this weekend, I walked for the future as well.
In addition to my mom, there were six other women (myself included) who walked with our group. It did not go unnoticed that - according to statistics - one of us would get breast cancer during our lives. This weekend we walked for a Cure for - potentially - ourselves, our sisters, our friends.
Along The Walk there was a shirt (many, actually) that read, “Save 2nd Base.” This cracked me up - and my friends cracked up that I had not heard this term before. But as the mother of boys, I found this to be an entertaining statement. And then I realized that I might be walking for my future daughter-in-law, the mother of my future grandchildren. And I walked a little faster.
Was it easy? Not on Day Two when we hiked up a two-mile incline around Mile 19. Would I do it again? Absolutely. Whenever it got tough, hot, or sore on the feet, we just said to ourselves- and often times to each other, “This is easier than chemo.” But my participation and accompanying fatigue also meant I could walk The Walk. I am so blessed!
As a continuation of my previous post, below are more response to the question, How did you benefit from reading Haley’s book?
Keep in mind that these students are middle schoolers, which I find remarkable. Their answers reflect insight that shows a depth of thought not usually associated with middle school students. Which teaches us our own lesson: Never underestimate the power and the mind of youth.
How wonderful to be able to still “teach” in this way, to students who are so willing and able to absorb life’s most meaningful lessons.