I've always been a firm believer that there are NO coincidences in this life...and recently we experienced one of those moments that has forever changed our lives for the better. Where do I even begin with this incredible story? Well, to start, this year we made the decision to expand the Hannah Duffy Memorial Community Service Scholarship program to all graduating seniors within Monmouth County -- 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.
In mid April, I was in Sarasota, Florida, participating in a playground build for the Where Angels Play Foundation. After the playground was completed, we had an opportunity to spend some time on the beach while at our hotel. I read this essay for the first time while sitting on the beach and I was brought to sobbing tears -- it was so beautiful, and so unexpected that the tears just started flowing. And, looking back, I was meant to read it at that exact moment on that beautiful beach...Hannah would not have wanted it any other way since she absolutely LOVED the beach and I could 'feel' her with me as I was reading.
To give a little bit of background 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. As much as it pained her to agree to never head the ball again, she agreed 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.
So, that brings me to the incredible essay we received from a Wall Township student...no coincidences...
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.
Our scholarship committee members also felt such emotion after reading this particular essay and the decision was made to create an additional award for Most Impactful Essay, beginning this year. Had we not expanded the scholarship program this year, we never would have had the opportunity to meet Maggie -- this was no coincidence, it was just meant to be. John & I were so proud and honored to meet Maggie and present her with the scholarship during the Wall HS Academic Awards Ceremony a few weeks ago. She truly is a special soul, and now our families are intertwined forever, all because of one fateful soccer game almost six years ago.
Hannah’s greatest fear was that she was going to be forgotten. To know she is remembered with kindness, compassion and inclusion is the greatest gift our family could ever receive. A beautiful legacy, for sure.
Defining moments for two young girls, both with far reaching impacts beyond what either could have ever imagined. Love ALWAYS wins, for sure.