Another deep piece by Maria Cornelius. Warning: you will get misty on this one. Here’s how it starts:
One moment is seared in Tonya Carter’s mind. Her daughter, slumped in a wheelchair inside a warm van, is headed to a rehab center. Amber Gray can’t keep her eyes open, and she tells her mother that she is so tired. Carter turns away so her daughter can’t see the tears. When she turns back around, Gray, using her fingers to prop open her eyes, manages a smile and tells her mother not to cry.
Gray ended up boosting everyone’s spirits with her sense of humor, even when she could not even open her eyes to see.
“The way she’s handled it I will always remember that,” Summitt said. “Everybody is fighting back the tears, and she’s upbeat and positive. We’re all worried to death and, for her, everything is positive. One day I walked in her room and she said, ‘I smell you, Coach.’ She smells my perfume. I was sitting in the room, and she was asleep and Tonya and I were whispering. She goes, ‘I hear you, Coach.’
It looks like Gray now has an appreciation for life like never before:
It’s also easy to look back and realize that some of Gray’s struggles on the court could also have been related to the ticking time bomb in her head as the bulging area in the wall of an artery pressed on her brain. But Gray refused to look back.
“As much as I could use it as an excuse I really can’t at the same time because there are a lot of tough things in a lot of people’s lives, and you can always come up with an excuse, but you know what? At the end of the day we found it, we moved on, we got it out, and I’ve got to look forward,” Gray said.
Summitt smiles in admiration when Gray’s words are relayed to her.
“I remember when she first got here as a freshman she struggled to make the runs, and she would pull herself from practice,” Summitt said. “She is the complete opposite now. She understands how precious life is and just her will to get through what she got through is amazing.”
And this is one of the reasons Pat Summitt is my only living hero:
“It’s so easy to respect Coach Summitt for what she has accomplished on the basketball court, but there’s not a member in my family that would not tell you that the level of love and support and compassion and care that she’s shown to Amber and the family over this time it takes my respect for her as a person to a completely different level.”
So happy for you, Amber Gray. Keep fighting.