On February 24, 2014, I was taken out of class into a small conference room where my dad delivered the news to my team that Meredith Legg’s body had given out. My basketball coach was twenty-six. She gave up precious years of her life to my team. She had been in hospice for over a week, so we knew.
Four years earlier, I was a tough nine-year-old who played in the dirt and never brushed her hair. I thought being “girly” would make people think less of me or see me as weak. That was before I met Meredith.
I had heard so much about her. She was Meredith Legg: the top scorer on the women’s basketball team at our local college. I looked up to her and held onto every word she said. And she was going to be my coach.
Every day, Meredith came to practice with two things: a change of clothes and a laundry list of drills for the day. She would come straight from work in a pencil skirt and a button down. Sometimes she would shoot around with us, scoring three-pointers in three-inch heels. I would watch her in amazement. Her hair was always laid neat and she had a perfect smile. Her femininity radiated everywhere she went. She was charming. During games she could convince the refs to reverse calls. She was a phenomenon: the kind of person you only see in movies.
Meredith had been diagnosed with stage 4 ocular melanoma in her left eye. She was my coach until my 6th-grade-year when she became too sick to go on. Chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out. Still, she fought on. She moved back home, but she came to visit every so often. She helped me with math and wanted to know about the boy I was seeing. You would never know she was battling terminal cancer.
Four years later I look back at the time I had with her and the things she taught me and I realize I didn’t know just how influential she would be to me. She taught me that “defense creates offense” and how to guard a player twice my size, but it was what she instilled in me off the court that meant the most. Meredith taught me you don’t have to be soft to be a woman; in fact, you have to be even tougher than people anticipate you to be. You have to expect the unexpected and roll with the punches: to be resilient.
The last time I heard her voice was the day of our championship game. Our opponents were better than we were, but we were undefeated. To me, at 12, every stake relied on this game.
Meredith was calling to offer words of encouragement and advice to my dad, who had stepped in as our team’s coach. Dad allowed me to listen in on their conversation. There I sat, in the back of his truck. Meredith was very sick, but her voice never wavered. I was listening to my coach again.
“Who do you trust most, outside of God,” she asked. Caught by surprise, my dad answered confidently, “My family.”
“That’s right. Your family.” I could practically hear her smiling over the phone, a grin I can still picture, “When you step on that court, your team becomes your family. Tell the girls that.”
We won the game, but that was not the most important thing that happened that day. The moment I will never forget was sitting in the back of my dad’s truck. Meredith taught me more than how to be a good player or even a good student. She taught me how to be a good person. She taught me that I had what it takes to be a mentor for someone else, to be somebody else’s Meredith.