01/24/09 — More than a coach: Kay Yow's lesson is that nothing can beat courage

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More than a coach: Kay Yow's lesson is that nothing can beat courage

There are some who will see 66-year-old Kay Yow's death to cancer this weekend as a sad ending to a wonderful role model's life.
They will see an end to a valiant fight to beat a disease that claims so many unmercifully -- and the loss of someone who inspired many to keep fighting.
And if they do, they will be missing the point -- the reason so many in the sports world and out have looked at Coach Yow as an example of the kind of person they would like to be -- and why she will live on forever in the minds of those who heard her story.
What made Kay Yow special was not that she lived so much longer than she should have or that she coached through much of her pain and setbacks. It was not that she had cancer -- that was only part of her story.
It is not even that she shunned the spotlight -- unless in some way her story could help others who were fighting cancer.
And it is not even in the humble way she accepted accolades and well-wishes, while making sure to praise the people who stood by her through her fight -- primarily her fellow coaches and her team.
Kay Yow's gift to those who were lucky enough to know her and the millions of others who knew her story is the knowledge that life is to be lived -- and that a legacy begins by helping to influence others around you.
Her contributions on the basketball court are legendary, but it is the effect she has had on the scores of young women whom she has guided on that court that makes her a champion.
She taught them courage, fight and the respect for themselves and each other. She leaves them understanding compassion, class and caring about someone other than themselves. The gifts she gave them will last a lifetime.
Then there are the thousands of cancer patients who held on one more day and smiled one more time because Kay Yow told them that if she could keep fighting, so could they. Hope and courage are the gifts she left them.
And then there are the rest of us, regular people who watched, listened and wore pink ribbons. Some sat courtside, while others wiped away a tear at home, but in the end, we were all Kay Yow fans, rooting her on to win, but knowing that the victory was in the fight itself, and the class with which it was conducted. She made us all proud.
Now, today, as we reminisce, smile and mourn a much-too-early exit for a heroine, Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Deacons all become members of the Pack -- even if just for a day.
It is a fitting tribute to a woman who knew that as important as basketball was, that her life was meant to be so much more, who knew that her legacy might be the hope, courage and compassion she shared with others.
She would want us all to live our lives with that thought in mind -- no matter how much time we have left.

Published in Editorials on January 24, 2009 11:57 PM