A little background first...
I've always been a firm believer that there are NO coincidences in this life...and for today's story I wanted to share a very special essay we received from an applicant for the Hannah Duffy Memorial Scholarship back in 2018. Reading this for the first time was truly a moment that has forever changed our lives for the better. The year we made the decision to expand the Hannah Duffy Memorial Community Service Scholarship program to all graduating seniors within Monmouth County was when we received this essay -- remember the no coincidences? As you read on, you will understand exactly why there are no coincidences, just moments that are 'meant to be'. Students are required to write an essay as part of our application process, and this story revolves around one of those essays.
Before I share this beautiful essay, we need to go back to the beginning, to when Hannah was first diagnosed with brain cancer. I remember sitting in a conference room in the hospital with her oncology team just days after her biopsy surgery in early October 2012 and heard words that still haunt me to this day ("malignant, anaplastic astrocytoma, gliomatosis cerebri, terminal," and much more I can't even remember now since I think I stopped listening after I heard the word terminal...) – but, after hearing all the bad news the very first question that came out of my mouth was, “can she still play soccer?” The news itself was devastating enough but to have to go back into her room and tell her that she could never play again was more than I could bear. Her oncologist made a deal with her – as long as she felt up to it, she could play, but she had to promise to wear protective head gear and no headers. She agreed, no headers, if it meant she would be allowed back on the field! And, back on the field she went, on October 17th, 2012, just seventeen days after brain surgery. After so much heartbreak and stress, just to see Hannah suited up and on the field with her friends and teammates that day was enough for us. But, it wasn’t enough for her – she was determined to play, and no one was going to stop her.
Maggie's beautiful essay...
"On October 17, 2012 I woke up feeling very special. Like every other birthday, my family showered me with gifts before I left for school. At school my friends decorated my locker. After school I had a soccer game at a nearby town. Soccer was my life then and still is today, I love the game. In my head this was going to be the most perfect birthday; it was our last game of an amazing undefeated season, I was the captain of the team, and we were playing Tinton Falls who had a losing record. However, this game seemed different, starting with the unusually large crowd. Most games that season we would blow teams away, but it was halftime and we were tied 1-1 to one of the last teams in the division. The next 35 minutes flew by and much to my surprise we were going into overtime, golden goal. Within the first five minutes, Tinton Falls gained possession of the ball, played it over top to a forward, who took the ball out of the air and attacked our goal.
That was it, she scored and the whole crowd erupted, and ran onto the field swarming the hero, Hannah Duffy.
As I walked off the field with my head down, I could not stop thinking about how that was supposed to be me. I wanted to be the girl that scored the winning goal, it was my birthday and I wanted to be the hero. After shaking hands, I sadly walked over towards my family, where Tinton Falls continued to celebrate their amazing win. My Mom, Dad, Aunt, Uncle and cousins all stood there waiting to wish me a happy birthday. At this point my eyes were filled with tears and I was about to break down. My mom, with tears in her eyes, hugged me and whispered in my ear, “Don't you dare cry for losing this game, the girl who scored that goal, has a brain tumor, that goal was a miracle”. My heart sank and my body went numb. My entire being went into absolute emotional confusion. In one single nanosecond, my entire life changed. I went from self-pity, “Why me?” to shock and confusion, "That really cannot happen to someone my age”, to embarrassment and guilt and then to extreme sadness, “Why her, #3, Hannah Duffy?“ Later on, I found out that this was the first game that Hannah was allowed to participate in since her brain surgery. The following September Hannah passed away, and in her obituary it mentioned that one of her favorite moments was scoring the game winning goal.
From that game on my life changed; in school when I walked the halls, I noticed faces that I never did before. I used to be content with being the stereotypical cool, popular athlete. The cold reality that someone my age could die, made my whole life flash in front of me. I wanted to use my remaining years of school to personally get to know all 286 kids in my class, no matter if they were in the band, school play, or engineering club. In high school I became class president. I tried to learn more about my classmate's interests and passions. This has allowed me to make friendships that will last a lifetime with people I didn't even know existed before that day. Reaching out to each and every student has allowed my class to grow and meld as one, which is rarely seen in high schools. My entire class has learned to appreciate everyone's passions, creating friendships between the so called “jocks” and “nerds”. I learned to find something I like about each and every person I encounter and stop noticing the differences. I view the world differently because of Hannah and I often think about her and pray for her family.
For years, we've always talked about that 'miracle game' and what a gift it was for Hannah & her teammates, but until the moment I read this essay, I never stopped to think about those girls on the opposing team, how they must have felt. I literally sobbed when I read this the first time (and many times since), and it shows the true character of another young girl who went on to be a leader within her school and had her life changed because of one fateful game all those years ago. We had the honor of meeting Maggie and awarded her with our "Most Impactful Essay" scholarship that year. She is now a junior in college, and still playing soccer, the sport she also loves so much!