Over a year ago, Lily set out to prove her coaches wrong and to get back on the water. Those coaches never let her back on the water. So, she found someone who did and worked with her every Saturday. And then, she got even braver and left the team that left her on the dock.
And today, she rowed with that team.
Since Lily began practicing with her new team, we've told other parents bits and pieces of her story--no this isn't her first year; yes, she is rowing novice; no, we've never been to a regatta, but Lily has. This week I went for it and told her full story--brain tumor, shunt failure, no one believing in her, but Lily believing in herself. The story is hard for me to tell for so many reasons. Just saying the word brain tumor produces a myriad of emotions and misconceptions. Mentioning a late-term complication from my brain tumor that is brain surgery produces even more misconceptions. And then, I don't want to throw shade or negativity on her past team. It's poor sportsmanship--right--to be negative about coaches who simply wouldn't play your child. Of course, Lily's story is more complicated than that, but still, I try my best to avoid that.
After today, I think I can bless them and release them. They missed the plot with Lily--and that's a damn shame for them. But, you know, things have a way of working out. Because without them and their rejection, Lily would not have the opportunities and experiences she has had this past year.
While she was sidelined, she talked to so many other teammates who were going through tough times and learned more about their journeys. When she wanted time on the water, she was able to work with the amazing, incredible Brannon Johnson, founder of BLJ Community Rowing. BLJ is the only African American-owned and operated organization in the country. Their belief: when options are given, options can be created and making rowing accessible is their priority.
Brannon spoke the language of Lily's life--bringing rowing to the marginalized, making the river accessible to all and this intense, incredible belief in all people to be able to live their best lives.
Rowing changes lives, friends. It's changed every single one of us.
Lily's time with Brannon gave her so much confidence. And Brannon treated Lily with dignity and respect. I know these things should always happen; but they don't. Words like "brain tumor" and "ataxia" and "right-side weakness" seem to often take dignity and respect off the table. It is truly what makes childhood cancer so evil; the disease itself and the world's perception of how the disease somehow makes you less than a human being deserving of everything you dream.
And Lily, well, she dreams of rowing. She dreams of rowing on the Charles. She dreams of rowing in the cancer survivor race. She dreams of rowing always and forever.
I love dreamers; but even more, I love the dreamers who make their dreams come true. While Lily truly has a team behind her, she is the one who does the work. She shows up when she knows it will be hard. She works through the pain--real pain from a hand that sometimes cramps and a hip that likes to ache. She pulls and pushes and rows and rigs and derigs and loads and cheers and prays and puts the work in to make her dreams come true.
When Lily decided it was time to leave her first team, she moved to a new team and found a community of rowers from all over South Jersey. She found a coach who is a former Olympian--but even more, a strong woman who cares about giving her rowers respect and lessons in teamwork, camaraderie and getting down that river quickly. She found a community where she has started to share her story and its complications and instead of finding fear, she finds solutions and support.
It is these opportunities that have been made possible by a bunch of closed doors. And it is these opportunities that will keep my daughter dreaming and doing and succeeding with every single stroke.