Key moments and athletes often transcend the sports world, creating an emotional attachment to that particular instance.
Because sports are played worldwide, there are many personalities to see and how they deal with adversity.
Unfortunately, sometimes, you’ll hear about an athlete who has passed or is dealing with a serious disease that has shortened their lifespan.
I wish this was the first and last time I am writing about an athlete dying at a young age, but sadly, this is the second time.
When I was the sports editor of The Echo, the University of Central Arkansas’ student newspaper, I wrote about 19-year-old Lauren Hill and her battle with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, which affects the middle portion of the brainstem.
Hill had a desire to play for Mount St. Joseph’s University women’s basketball team and committed to the school 49 days before her diagnosis.
Hill played in Mount St. Joseph’s University’s first two games, hitting two of three shots.
During her final days, Hill received tremendous response for her tenacity, while also helping raise money for an incurable disease.
This year, another story about a courageous athlete sparked headlines when Mississippi State Bulldogs softball player and 18-year-old Alex Wilcox played in a limited number of games for the Southeastern Conference school despite having ovarian cancer.
Wilcox was a star pitcher for Brantley (Alabama) High School, who committed to Mississippi State after her freshman year in 2014.
Her sophomore year at Brantley finished without a hitch, but she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer before her junior season.
Wilcox would eventually go on to play 16 games this season as a freshman for the Bulldogs, despite going through multiple operations and receiving chemotherapy.
Her teammates would wear teal, the color for ovarian cancer awareness, in support during midweek games throughout the season.
Her story not only sparked national recognition, but also hit close to home.
Joining Mississippi State in donning teal as part of the jerseys, the UCA softball team also showed its support for Wilcox during a March 21 game in Starkville, facing the then No. 21 Bulldogs.
Not only did the Bears wear teal, but every player and coach donned “Wilcox” on the back of their jersey.
Those jerseys were auctioned off with the money going to help with Wilcox’s medical expenses.
Some UCA softball parents bought the jerseys in the auction, only to give them back so they could be auctioned off again.
This wasn’t the last time the Bears would wear teal, as they would wear teal eyeblack and teal bows for remaining midweek games through the season.
A Mississippi State Fansided website said other teams throughout the season wore teal as part of their jerseys in support for Wilcox, but claims no other team did more than UCA.
This column isn’t to boast on what UCA did, but a reminder that communities band together when one of their own is stricken with hardships.
The Bears athletic community as a whole banded together for former UCA soccer player Kelsey Johnson, who had surgery for a benign brain tumor and returned to the team and was on the roster for her senior season.
We, in the journalism community, are currently mourning the five who were shot at the Capital Gazette newspaper Thursday.
Now, the softball community as a whole and Mississippi State athletics is mourning the death of Wilcox.
The MSU softball Twitter account Tweeted on Monday the news of Wilcox’s death, saying “Our hearts are heavy as we lost @Alex_wilcox8 tonight after her long and courageous battle with ovarian cancer. She did not lose her battle, but fought every day with a bright smile and inspired all that knew her story.”
Within a few hours, UCA’s softball Twitter account Tweeted, “So sad that we have lost Alex (sad emoji) Thoughts and prayers to @HailStateSB and @bulldogs810 #NoOneFightsAlone.”
This connection likely changed the outlook of many minds on the UCA softball team.
A GoFundMe has been set up, called “Alex Wilcox Memorial Fund,” and is located at https://www.gofundme.com/alex-wilcox-memorial-fund if you wish to donate.
I ended with this sentence in my column about Lauren Hill three years ago, and I will do the same here.
If there is anything we can take away from this story, it’s that even in our dying days, we need to live the life we always wanted and continue chasing our dreams because we never know when the end will come.