Amplatz Children’s Hospital Nurses Encourage Bravery in Kids Fighting Cancer

Nat's white coat ceremony  11-17-07 009At the end of a work day, like many teachers, I am emotionally exhausted. Students come to my door in tears filled with worry about family members battling cancer, failed chemistry tests, and the big bully in the lunchroom. Weary from my own my health battles, I often wonder how I will find the energy to keep giving. Then I receive a surprise call from my daughter in Minneapolis, a pediatrician, who recounts her work week at the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital.

What could be more discouraging than children battling an evil disease that destroys their dreams? Rich, poor, black, white, Muslim, Jew, cancer does not discriminate. No one grows up on easy street anymore.

When U of M Amplatz Children’s Hospital opened in 2011, it was designed to help kids heal as painlessly as possible by offering patient and family centered care. Staff wear colorful – orange, magenta, turquoise – scrubs and the bright, customized private rooms are spacious enough to allow families to stay to help the healing process.

The positive energy of the place can be seen in nurses of  Unit 5, who took time before and after hours to shoot a video with nearly 70 staff members dancing to « Brave » by Sara Bareilles, as a way of encouraging their patients.

“We know these kids, know their stories and what they’ve been through,” the nurses say, “but for other people to see how amazing they are and to be affected in the same way just means so much to them, and we hope it continues to inspire other kids.”

Their little video went viral with over 300,000 viewers. Our daughter abhors the limelight, so she ducked during the filming, but she jumped right on the band wagon promoting it.

When Nathalie’s aunt asked for ideas for birthday and Christmas gifts, Nat suggested that in lieu of gifts, we could make donations to Toys-for-Tots , or to Make a Wish, which grants wishes for kids with cancer and other life threatening illnesses.

“A lot of the kids I take care of have had wishes granted by Make-a-Wish, which is a big deal for them and their families,” Nat says.

To the doctors, nurses, families, and children at Amplatz and elsewhere fighting in the face of a despairing disease, as we say in France, « Bon Courage ! »

To my dear daughter, Happy Birthday! May you find the strength to do what you do best : easing children’s pain, calming distraught parents, and encouraging co workers.              .

To the rest of us who think we are weary from our job raising children, think again. We share a privileged role. Whether we are helping kids string together words one syllable at time or battle disease cell by cell, like the Amplatz’s staff implore each of us – teachers, coaches, counselors, parents and grandparents – take time to hug a kid today.

« Be courageous, be brave, be strong

Stay fighting, stay positive, stay courageous

Support the fighters, admire the survivors, honor the taken

Never ever give up hope»

Children are priceless. Each day is a gift. Kindness costs nothing. Positivity perpetuates. Hope prevails.

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WNBA Seattle Storm Superstar Inspires NOVA United Seniors

Simone_Edwards, Seattle 2006

Simone Edwards 2004 Seattle Storm WNBA Champion

During the National Senior Games one woman towered above the rest, only she wasn’t on the court, she was on sidelines coaching ladies half her size and 3 times her age. Simone Edwards, 6’4”, a.k.a. Jamaican Hurricane of the Seattle Storm 2004 WNBA championship team, coached the NOVA United team and spoke on behalf of the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association.

“Every night I heard my mama crying and praying over me and my 3 brothers. We grew up so dirt poor in Kingston, we couldn’t afford new shoes,” Simone said. “I stuffed paper in my old ones to fill the holes. I swore that if I ever make it outta there, I’d help Mama and the kids back home.”

Simone, who never played basketball in high school, would go on to create the Simone4Children foundation to assist economically disadvantaged children in Seattle and Jamaica.

Spotted at a track meet by a scout, Simone was offered a scholarship to play at Seminole Junior College in Oklahoma. She recounted how bizarre it felt for a black girl to be living in the “land of cowboys and Indians.” One day when she walked out of the gym, she fell to her knees thinking that the world was coming to an end.

“Mama, the Lord done had it now. He’s shooting at us from heaven! I’d never seen hail before.”

Simone left the Wild West and moved to the cornfields at the University of Iowa to play for Vivian Stringer.

“I won Kodak All-American honors, and when I saw the award, I said ‘you gotta to change the name. If Mama see this, she gonna kill me. I’m not American, I am Jamaican!’”

Simone also went onto play overseas in Israel, Italy, Spain, and Hungary.

2012 All NOVA

NOVA United Senior Women’s Basketball Players

“I love teaching the game,” said Edwards. “I was given the opportunity to get a scholarship, play basketball and learn from the best coaches in the world. Now, I take the knowledge I gained throughout the years and give back by teaching the game.”

Over our dinner at the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association social, the former assistant coach at George Mason, confided in me, “I love coaching these ladies best. It’s not like coaching young girls that think they know it all. These women never had a chance to play growing up; they want to learn.”

Simone’s link to NOVA United was through one of the most unassuming connectors of all, Helen White, co-founded NOVA United Senior Women’s Basketball Association a nonprofit organization that promotes senior women’s basketball in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, DC and West Virginia. White was selected as Humana Hero Athlete of the Month last April; however, she prefers to spotlight her teammates. In Cleveland, Helen coached NOVA United’s 70+ team to a third place finish in the AA flight.  Her 60+ team won a silver medal in the AA flight. She played in Women’s 60+ Pickleball Singles tournament and earned a silver medal as an unknown underdog and came through the loser’s bracket to meet the #1 seed for the gold.

Helen and Pat McKinzie

With Helen White HUMANA Athlete of the Month
NOVA United & NSWBA

But for all her athletic accomplishments, White is best known for her selfless promotion of the game and fitness for seniors. For an encore, she completed her master’s degree in sports management with emphasis on senior sports and fitness at George Washington University before her sixtieth birthday. And now White will also be remembered for connecting the Jamaican Hurricane – the NOVA United ladies self-proclaimed worst nightmare and biggest fan – to the NOVA United Team.

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Coach McKinzie, A College Ball Field, Teammates ‘til the End of Time

Coach Mac - 1950

Coach Mac – 1950

Anyone affiliated with sport knows that team connections can last lifetimes; lessons learned on the field have an everlasting impact. I witnessed this with the teams I played for and coached. However few teams can compare to the extraordinary bond created by the 1950-51 back-to-back Illinois Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship baseball team that my grandfather coached at Northern Illinois University.

At that time no one could imagine that seven decades later those same ball players would stay in contact, reuniting annually to play golf, swap stories over a meal and commemorate their time as Huskies playing baseball for Coach Mac. “The tradition has gone on for 40 some years,” Grant Cummings, an outfielder, said, “We have been getting together for so long no one can remember when we held our first of the first reunions.”

“We revered your grandpa,” Bill Eiserman, First Team All Interstate Athletic Conference catcher and captain, told me. “We won a lot of games, but he taught us that being a good person is more important than winning. He built character.”

“He taught a lot of lessons,” Bill continued. “But that was the greatest. I tried to impart that in all the teams that I coached. Everybody loves to win – not every team has the talent to win – but everyone can still take that valuable lesson away from the game.”

McKinzie, a seven time Hall of Fame Coach served as head basketball coach where he also won 3 state conferences in 8 years, before becoming head baseball coach. He also served as tennis, track and field coach, as well as an assistant football coach and athletic trainer at NIU from 1940-63. Though he officially retired from NIU in 1963, he continued coaching football into his nineties at his own alma mater, Eureka College.

Every year until my grandpa’s death at the age of 96, my dad, a dedicated son also part of that team, made sure Coach Mac made it to the annual baseball reunion.

NIU-baseball-team-1950-51

NIU-baseball-team-1950-51

Once a year the guys rally past personal setbacks, the loss of loved ones, and limitations due to declining health, to gather in celebration of not so much their ol’ double plays and home runs, but to honor the memory of the coach who shaped their lives and the camaraderie that developed under his leadership.

“Every spring we drove down to New Orleans for a tournament, stopping to play games along the way,” Cummings told me, a trip that I found remarkable for that time period.

“I wasn’t a drinker,” my dad said, “so I ordered a coke on our night out on the town. The guys still razz me; my coke cost more than those fancy cocktails everybody else was drinking.”

Typically, college stadiums are named for big-time alumni donors. My grandpa, son of a tenet farmer, lived modestly even donating his coaching salary back to Eureka College in his later years. He never made a fortune coaching, but he sure made friends.

In the late 80s, fueled by Bill Eiserman, Jack Brumm, Bud Nangle, former SID at NIU, and including the support of my grandpa’s Eureka College football player, President Ronald Reagan, the 1950-51 NIU team instigated naming the NIU baseball diamond, Ralph McKinzie Field. Mike Korcek, who can still recount the win-loss record of every team during his tenure as NIU’s sports information director, and Cary Groth, one of the first female large college athletic directors were also instrumental in the process.

On May 8, 1993, at the dedication ceremonies, my dad threw the game-opening pitch. “Poor Bill scooped my pitch out of the dirt,” my dad said and chuckled. “Bill kept me from looking bad, my pitch never made it cross the plate. I was an outfielder, not a pitcher.”

NIU Hall of Fame induction 10.10.2007 Front-Kranz, Moreno, Brumm, Neukirch, Giudici, Meath, Leon, Eiserman Back-Davis, McKinzie, Wasco, Cummings, Stap, Bedrosian

NIU Hall of Fame induction 10.10.2007
Front-Kranz, Moreno, Brumm, Neukirch, Giudici, Meath, Leon, Eiserman
Back-Davis, McKinzie, Wasco, Cummings, Stap, Bedrosian

My grandpa won countless honors; the NIU baseball field and Eureka College football field bear his name. But accolades aside, what made my Coach Mac proudest, was seeing what kind of men his players became.

Each member of the 1950-51 NIU team became successful in his own field, as high school and college teachers, coaches and athletic directors and exemplary civic leaders in business and education.

My grandpa also played a key role in my life. I miss him to this day, so I find comfort knowing his name lives on in the hearts of his former athletes.

These ol’ ball players have done him proud in turn by serving their family, community and country. The field may bear Ralph McKinzie’s name, but it carries the spirit of the 1950-51 ball team.

Athletes that step up to the plate at NIU today have no idea who Coach Mac was, still I hope that my grandpa’s moral standards seep into their souls through the diamond dust on that field of dreams.

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Where are all our heroes?

Jackie Robinson, a true heroe from yesteryears

Jackie Robinson, a true hero from yesteryear

When I asked my freshman English class students who they admired most, they said themselves. This should come as no surprise from the Millennial Generation but still, folks my age wonder. When pressed isn’t there anyone they look up to? My students confessed, “No we don’t have heroes.”

Is it no wonder? Sports icons fall short. The most reputable coach in football, the late Papa Joe Patterno fell off his pedestal when he covered up pedophilia at Penn State, tarnishing his record.

Lance Armstrong was stripped of 7 Tour de France medals for performance enhancing drug usage. Apparently, he did not defy odds as a human miracle beating cancer then rising to top of his game again.

Tiger Woods, following in the footsteps of political icons like Bill Clinton, French DSK, Italian Berlusconi, cheated on his wife, and then lied about it under oath. Classy.

American athletes are not the only ones disappointing the public. Around the globe, similar headlines make the front page. In a traditionally clean sport, French handball stars were charged with game fixing. Every time a European soccer idol breaks a record, another one makes the headlines for spouse abuse, drugs, or gambling. South African hero, Paralympics’ poster child, Oscar Pistorius was accused of murdering his girlfriend model, Reeva Steenkamp.

Politicians? Un huh, the very nature of the job makes their integrity questionable.

Surprisingly, you don’t hear about women cheating in relationships, business deals, or sports. You still just don’t hear much about women. Period. Especially athletic women. Title IX did not stipulate equal media coverage, which is still lacking, only 8% of media coverage is about women. Are athletic women yet to capture media eye? Or maybe women are less likely to make the same poor decisions?

Unfortunately, the media does find female athletes newsworthy when scandal arrives. Former WNBA star, Chamique Holdsclaw, one of the best female basketball players of all time, was arrested in a domestic dispute. In a rags to riches tale, this ghetto girl made it big at Tennessee winning 3 consecutive titles. She was the first female athlete recruited to go professional while still in college because the opportunity was available. Now her life accomplishments will be tarnished by scandal after she assaulted her ex girlfriend Jennifer Lacy, Tulsa Shock player.

Bad press for the WNBA, which gets only limited print. The articles never mentioned Chamique’s underlying psychological issues – depression and attempted suicide in 2006 – revealed in her autobiography. For all her accolades on the hardwood, as a gay, black, inner-city female basketball player the cards were stacked against her. What I am wondering is why only scandal makes the headlines?

Like Suzi Favor Hamilton, the world class run runner from Wisconsin, a wife and mom, who doubled as a high flying call girl. She made “breaking news” which by the way, ran in Swiss newspapers with full-page photo layout, no less.

So who can we admire?

Famous people are under suspicion, as if fame itself corrupts or perhaps the money behind it. Maybe our children should ignore the big names, and instead emulate everyday role models.

A favorite educator, a respected coach, a kind neighbor. Little people tackle the mundane jobs of keeping kids on track without 6 digit salaries, 5 car garages, million dollar shoe endorsements, thousand dollar speaking appearances and Oprah interviews.

Hear! Hear! For the teachers, coaches, moms, dads, grandmas.

How about featuring one of those stars the headlines? What do you think?

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Reinventing Myself, Growing Stronger in Spirit

Women'sBasketball_Mar1978_K29V-3-78_ACCESSAs a child in the Land of Lincoln, I grew up emulating Wilt the Stilt, the 7-foot African American NBA star, and dreamed that one day girls would be allowed to play basketball. As a first generation Title IX athlete, I came of age in 1972 along with the law that revolutionized women’s sports by mandating equal opportunity for girls in publicly funded schools.

I fought so hard to be recognized as an athlete that it didn’t seem fair that my professional team in the USA declared bankruptcy, my French club banned foreigners, and when I finally found a home playing ball in Germany, a car accident ended my career in instant.

I have fought back from broken bones, shattered dreams and dashed hopes and cried a river of tears over lost abilities. I never ran down court again; instead, I paced on the sideline as a coach.

When I was growing up, I dreamed of having five children, a whole starting line-up.  I carried two babies safely into the world, but lost three en route.  Instead of becoming bitter, I did what my grandfather and father did, I coached other people’s kids.

When my professional basketball career ended, I intended to run marathons, climb mountains, sail the seas, but with busted knees, a wrecked back and bad karma, my body failed me.  So instead I teach teenagers, read books, navigate the Internet.

And I rewrite my story. One. Word. At. A. Time.

I intended to conquer the world straight up, instead I spend an inordinate amount of time flat on my back. I can no longer run, jump, play, but ever the athlete, I still walk, swim, stretch.IMG_2184

Every morning as I face a new day, I pray for strength, patience, resilience, faith, and hope. Faith abides. Hope trumps all. Hope endures.

Pain makes me set my jaw, as my eyes become glassy with anxiety. How long will it last? How can I minimize the intensity? Pain interrupts my best-laid plans and interferes with my long held dreams. Pain rules.

Yet I roll out of bed every morning and move. One. Step. Forward.

Chronic pain may subside temporarily, but it comes back to haunt me. Over time it wears down resistance, breaks spirit, zaps energy, steals joy, robs the soul.

With pain as a partner, only a fine line separates triumph and despair. A warm hug, a strong handshake, a kind word makes all the difference. I reach out to my global community in Switzerland for inspiration drawing strength from the student who greets me with a genuine grin, the colleague who offers a cup of tea, the sister who calls long distance just to say, “thinking about you today.”

Endurance is an attitude. In spite of setbacks and losses, I am in this for the long haul. Instead of focusing on myself, I concentrate on others. I write a note to the friend who lost her mother, I cheer for the girl who made a basket, and I console the student who failed his math exam.

Every time I am knocked to my knees AGAIN, I pray for the courage to keep on, keepin’ on.  I whisper my worries to the wind and shout thanks to the skies because I know without doubt,

“My peeps, got my back!”

Bring it on, LIFE!

The girl who dreamed of slam dunking, now lives above the rim, suspended in air over the Atlantic with one foot in both worlds.Image 33

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World’s Largest, Oldest International School Provides a Global Education

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courtesy of Ecolint

Too tall, too smart, too athletic as a girl I felt too big to squeeze into the gender constraints of the 60s until Title IX (1972) opened doors providing equal opportunity in education and sport in America’s schools. In pursuit of a dream once denied in my homeland, I moved abroad three decades ago. After a globetrotting athletic career, I found a home at the world’s oldest and largest international school at the Ecole Internationale de Genève (Ecolint), a bilingual school with instruction in French and English.

Founded in 1924, the school grew from its humble beginnings of 8 students, 3 teachers and a rabbit to  3 large campuses: La Grand Boissière and Campus des Nations (2005) in Geneva, and La Châtaigneraie (1970) in the Canton Vaud. Our 4,380 students represent a world record of 135 different nationalities speaking 84 different mother tongues.

“In 1920-1921, the League of Nations and the International Labour Office (ILO) established their headquarters in Geneva with staff drawn from many countries. This created the need to cater for students with a diversity of cultures preparing them for university education in their home countries.”

Our tenets are imbedded with Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s (1712-1778) theories of education.

Arthur Sweetser, an American war correspondent during WWI, who became the unofficial ambassador to the League of Nations (1919-39), advocated for international education in conjunction with Adolphe Ferriere and Elisabeth Rotten. Dr. Ludwig Rajchman (Poland), William Rappard, Rector of the University of Geneva, and Sir Arthur Salter, a senior official of the League of Nations were also involved in the creation of the school.

Another American, Robert Leach (1916-2004) a social studies teacher, became the father of the International Baccalaureate designed to help students develop their intellectual, personal, emotional, and social abilities. The acclaimed diploma, once considered a pie-in-the-sky idea, is now recognized worldwide. One million students are enrolled in its programs and over a 100,000 students sit the exams. Yet, few schools can match our school’s 96% graduation rate.

The Ecolint code we uphold that speaks loudest to me is Article 4 point 4 of our charter.

Le_Chat_30April12_025_copy

courtesy of Ecolint

“The activity of school in all fields and especially in the field of pedagogy shall be based on the principles of equality and solidarity among all peoples and of the equal value of all human beings without any distinction of nationality, race, sex, language or religion.”

As Vicky Tuck, our General Director, states on our website, “We seek to give all our students the opportunity to experience a unique international education and to acquire the personal attributes, outlook and knowledge that will equip them to play an active part in the construction of tomorrow’s world.”

Many of our former students went onto make a global impact in the arts, sciences and diplomacy such as Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) former Prime Minister of India. Michael Douglas, an Oscar-winning and Emmy Award-nominated American actor and producer, Elizabeth Frank, Pulitzer Prize winning author: Norman Schwarzkopf  commander in chief of US and coalition troops, Operation Desert Storm, and Joakim Noah – NCAA division 1 basketball MVP of the final four 2006 and NBA star for the Chicago Bulls for the past 4 seasons, all have made an impact in their fields. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations and Macalester College alumni, served on the Ecolint board from 1981-83.

Each day as I walk into a classroom filled with students reflecting faces of the world, I am humbled by the magnitude of our mission. Though I am the teacher, I learn just as much from by my global-minded students, who speak multiple languages, carry several passports and have lived on different continents before entering secondary school.

Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas meet on the campus' court

Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas meet on the campus’ court

As a Norwegian-American married to a Frenchman, raising our kids with an international education in the bucolic countryside of a neutral country was idyllic. Like so many of our alumni, my own children, one a pediatrician advocating for healthcare for underprivileged children in the St.Paul-Minneapolis area and the other an educator in the making, pay it forward in their own lives. Unlike students who attend school in homogenous communities, international education taught tolerance by exposing them to pupils of other cultural beliefs and traditions, who then became friends. Today, Nathalie understands her Somali refugee patients, and not only because she speaks French. Nic is especially sensitive to the needs of his African American, Hmong and Latino students.

Ecolint sets high standards for its staff and students in an attempt to uphold such lofty ideals in a tenuous time of world unrest and conflicting ideologies. We do our best to meet the challenge of contributing to a better world, one child at a time.

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