Fifteen years…that’s a pretty long time to look forward to doing the same thing. Over fifteen years I’ve traveled to some little elementary school gyms from King of Prussia, PA to Manassas, VA. To junior high school and high school gyms in suburban Philadelphia and AAU venues from New Haven, CT to Washington, D.C. , to State College, PA , to Wildwood, NJ and everywhere in between.
I’ve watched two of the five girls on the basketball floor be my daughters. The pride of walking into gyms and hearing, “There are the Kelly girls”, continues to surge emotion through my body. They were good, solid players that reflected everything their mother and I attempted to instill in them concerning self-confidence without arrogance, focus and determination, coach ability, hustle, selflessness, and teamwork.
Their mother was a First Team All-State high school volleyball player in Ohio and went on to start every game in college and be an All-Ohio Athletic Conference player for four years. I’m in my alma mater Athletic Hall of Fame and I’ve spent my entire life in athletics with the incredible experiences of coaching in the Canadian Football League, the XFL, and the National Football League as well having served as a head coach collegiately in football (twice), baseball, and softball. We watched our daughters race their bikes around the school parking lot. After each lap, they would jump off their bikes, drop to the pavement and execute 10 push-ups, get back on their bikes and repeat. We watched from our front window laughing saying, “What are we raising”? The girls were in kindergarten and first grade…competition and effort is part of our fabric.
Here we are fifteen years later watching the tears come down our daughters cheeks as her team, the Nazareth College Golden Flyers, are eliminated from the Empire 8 Conference basketball tournament. I’m hugging Lindsey Kelly feeling every bit of disappointment in the game’s outcome and fright by the knowledge of playing career closure.
Coaches from other teams and various players and parents are stopping to tell Lindsey what a great season and career she had but there was one young teenage girl that really struck a chord. “I just wanted you to know how much I admire you and what an inspiration you’ve been to me over the last four years. My sister plays for Ithaca but I watch you play on-line if you’re playing at the same time. I was diagnosed with diabetes at age two and you’ve inspired me that I can play college basketball too”.
The two girls hug and discuss the advantages of the OmniPod, a wireless insulin delivery system that calculates suggested doses with insulin on board and a built in FreeStyle blood glucose meter. Lindsey wore one in all 26 games this season with a sleeve covering it and elastic athletic wrap to secure it in place. It has proven to be a huge benefit in the assistance of controlling Lindsey’s blood sugar levels. Lindsey played 100 college basketball games and the only ones she didn’t start were due to low levels but the OmniPod made life so much more manageable.
Lindsey has not allowed diabetes to define her and she has refused to use it as an excuse at any time in her life. Her story is completely unique and I’m compelled now at the conclusion of her collegiate career to let others know her story and have an elevated level of appreciation of what she has and does endure but still proved to be an elite player at the Division III level.
Lindsey was diagnosed within a week after her birth in 1993 with nesidioblastoma, otherwise known as “islet cell carcinoma” at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, MB, Canada.
Islet cell tumors, like nesidioblastoma, secrete high amounts of insulin leading to low blood sugar levels, meaning the brain will not get enough sugar necessary for it to function properly. This condition is seen most often in ages 30-50 and more common with women than men. Only 3 in a million per year are seen in the United States.
The fact she was born with this tumor is very rare. Had she not been diagnosed properly, the low blood sugars would have resulted in death, with a likely categorization of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
For the first three months of her life, Lindz was fed every three hours around the clock with a high iron formula supported with corn starch to increase carbohydrates and therefore produce glucose to over-whelm the onslaught of insulin being produced by her pancreas. Every four hours around the clock she was administered Diazoxide to counteract hypersinsulinism. The side effects were increased growth of hair on her body including not only the head but also her face, arms, legs, and back.
Her mother and I were faced with the unbelievably difficult decision to remove Lindsey’s pancreas at the age of three months. The result of the procedure would save her life but render her a diabetic.
The initial thought process was to remove 95% of Lindz pancreas with the idea that the remaining five percent would allow her to function normally. After the first procedure, she continued to experience sever hypocalcaemia and an infection from her central line set her back even more. Another major surgery was performed completely removing her pancreas thusly becoming one of the few people on earth functioning without a pancreas.
Lindsey has had her blood sugar level checked through heel, finger, forearm sticks, every day of her life, sometimes as many as 15 times a day. Along with a minimum of two (sometimes 5) injections of insulin, (prior to the OminPod ) her entire life in order to sustain and keep a healthy blood sugar balance.
Lindsey has had a phenomenal college career in NCAA Division III. She didn’t want to be red shirted in Division I, didn’t want to sit the bench or simply be a practice player. She kept great perspective through the recruiting process and reaped the rewards ending her eligibility as the second all-time leading scorer in Naz history with 1625 points and fourth all-time in rebounds with 927. She broke a 35 year old school record as a freshman, when D3hoops.com named her the East Region Rookie of the Year, for field goal percentage in a season and proceeded to break her own record not once but twice finishing this past season fifth in the country with a 64.7 shooting percentage and a career 58.9 percentage. In Nazareth College basketball history she finishes fourth in free throws made (336) and tied for second in free throw percentage at 78.5. She is fourth all-time in scoring average at 16.3.
Lindsey is a two time First Team All-Empire 8 Conference player and finished the 2015-16 season ranked first in the conference in scoring (19.9 per game-23rd in the country), rebounding (10.9 per game-44th in the country), field goal percentage (64.7-5th in the country), and fourth in free throw percentage (83.2-45th in the country, and second in double doubles (15-26th in the country).
Lindsey lives with her diabetic alert dog Punches. Punches was trained at UPENN Veterinary School in Philadelphia, as a working dog that attends class with Lindsey and goes to restaurants, shopping, anywhere Lindsey goes. Several times in the course of the school year, Punches has done her job and awoken Lindsey in the middle of the night so that she may address low blood sugar levels. The dog is a tremendous asset to the constant monitoring, checks and balances, and disciplined execution of daily routines that Lindsey has to pay attention to. Nothing can be taken for granted with a diabetic. Lindsey found great support at Subway Restaurant on Monroe Avenue in Rochester, NY in simply how they cared that her turkey sub was prepared to her liking and bag of baked chips were always ready four hours before tip-off every game.
So many people have helped Lindsey in her playing and academic career but no one more than Lindsey herself. She never cried through all the surgeries, poking and prodding. She would growl and reach for her Winnie the Pooh blanket. I remember when she was in Children’s Hospital in Toronto, also known as Sick Kids Hospital, covered in iodine and stables across her midsection, my father standing over her, staring into the crib, eyes focused directly on his granddaughter stating, “She is a tough one. She’ll be fine”.
Lindsey has proven to be more than fine. I’m just being selfish because nothing can compare to the gratitude I felt every time I watched her compete knowing what she has endured. Think I’ll just keep using this #ProudDad