We are pleased to announce the creation of the Kathleen Paternostro Morgan Memorial Scholarship Program! During 2013, we will recognize two deserving graduates from Hughesville High School who exemplify Kass’s spirit and dedication to sports, academics, and her community. With your help, we plan to expand this program in the future.
Please read below for the 2013 scholarship guidelines and criteria.
Kass loved life! She held many fond memories of her time spent in school close in her heart. So we are very pleased to be able to provide financial support to aspiring student athletes in this small way.
Purpose: To provide annual scholarships to deserving high school seniors who demonstrate Kathleen’s esteemed qualities and work ethic, including dedication to academics, sports, and the community in which they live.
Scholarship Amount: $300.00 (2 awards to be presented)
Frequency: Presented annually during graduation ceremonies at Hughesville High School.
Applicants must be a member of the graduating class.
Applicants must have participated in sports, with preference given to basketball and tennis, during their senior year.
Applicants must be attending college upon graduation.
Applicants must complete the scholarship application and write a 500-word essay.
Applications are available from Hughesville High School officials, and must be submitted by 15 May.
Applications may be submitted via direct mail to: Team Kass Foundation, PO Box 1862, Williamsport, PA 17703.
Two members of Kathleen’s family may elect to meet briefly with the nominees to determine the final scholarship recipient(s).
About Kathleen: Kathleen Paternostro Morgan was a 1990 graduate of Hughesville High School. A standout athlete, she played the number one singles position in girls tennis and was a starting member of the 1990 District IV championship girls basketball team. In addition to her love for sports, Kathleen had a creative spirit and was an accomplished artist. She graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Technology in 1992 with a degree in Food & Hospitality Management and worked within the hospitality industry for 20 years before her journey to Heaven in July 2012 at the young age of 40. She was the proud mother of Josephine, whom she loved with all of her heart.
As each day passes, I become more and more strengthened in my resolve to just keep going. As difficult as it seems at times, this is truly the only choice we have. This winter has been particularly difficult. You see last winter; we were still in the fight. We were traveling, telling stories, getting treatment, spending time, talking, listening, laughing and loving. We were working toward a positive outcome. We never lost focus. We stayed in the moment as much as we could. We just kept going.
As I watch the snow fall this afternoon, I am reminded that the journeys we go through in life are often unexpected and many times lead us to this place we never could have anticipated. In our case, we are left in a swirl of uncertainty, compounded by a sadness that floats around our hearts and permeates the motions of our everyday life. We may not understand why God allows things to happen the way they do, or how the course of our life may be altered as a result, so the best that we can do is appreciate that everything has a reason – some greater purpose – that one day will be revealed to us when the time is right.
One thing is for certain, though. If we are lucky to have a loving family to provide a steady hand to guide us through the hard times, we are among the fortunate ones. And, we should consider ourselves blessed if we have true friends who will stop at nothing to help to see us through. Luckily for me, I have both.
Through the next several writings, I will relate stories about friendship that need to be shared as a part of Kass’s story. I begin this week back in 2010 with a story about my amazing friend, Kate:
On a whim back in July 2010, while living in Alexandria , VA, I walked into CrossFit Old Town to check out this new (to me) fitness regimen that a friend had told me about. I knew no one, but I was determined to give it a try. From the beginning, I was hooked. But, it wasn’t just the exercise and fitness that I loved; it was the experiences that I had and the friendships that I made along the way that I will always remember. What I found inside of this place was: encouragement, support, hard work, commitment, willpower, determination, dedication, strength, athleticism, and the overwhelming surroundings of friendship. On that same day that I started CrossFit, my life became forever intertwined with another new CrossFitter, my friend Kate. Kate and I were workout partners. Kate and I pushed each other. Kate and I worked out hard together. Kate and I supported each other’s successes. And, over time, Kate and I became friends.
Not the acquaintance type of friend but, the forever friend. The kind of person who comes into your life for a reason. The kind of friend who is genuine to the core, and will always be there for you no matter what. The kind of friend that always has your back. The kind of friend who believes in you. The kind of friend who helps to make you a better person. The kind of friend who understands and appreciates you for who you are, where you are. The kind of friend that I could not have realized that I so desperately needed at the time.
We only worked out together for a year. But, a year was more than enough time for us to share our personal journey and to reflect on the hopes and dreams we both had for our own lives. So Kate understood what it meant on that day in July 2011 as we ran when I told her about Kass. I cried. She cried. Even though our hope was still surging at the time, she understood what this meant to me. She had heard enough stories about my life to know that Kass was my very best friend. She understood and supported what I needed to do. After we ran, we stood there on that sidewalk and she said, “She is going to fight this thing. You are going to help her. You are strong, Krista, so I know that Kass is strong, too. You can do this.” I will never forget that day. And, shortly thereafter off I went to join my family to fight alongside of Kass.
That August, Kate and I ran together in my first Team LIVESTRONG event in Philly. It was a beautiful day. The emotions were almost too much, but we did it. We crossed that finish line together, just as I knew we would.
In November 2011, I came back to join with 8 other ladies from CFOT to run in the National Race to End Women’s Cancer in Washington, DC. This 8K run was an amazing experience, organized by Kate. Every member of our team ran with Kass’s picture on their back….she was our inspiration! And, it was the friendships that I had made from participating in CrossFit that kept me going that day. To this day, I still feel connected to all of those I knew from that 6:00 a.m. class, even though I never see them and our time together seems like a lifetime ago.
Over the past several months, I have shared many personal stories of Kass’s determination, courage, strength, positive attitude, and that bright light that was always shining toward others who surrounded her during her fight. Kass radiated love. Below, I invite you to read about that light as seen by my friend Kate, who wrote this just a few days after Kass went to Heaven, in July 2012:
What do you do when what you give just isn’t enough? When the fight is just too hard? How do you say good-bye when it just is not supposed to happen this way?
A year ago I was running down the streets of old town with Krista when she shared with me that her sister had been diagnosed with cancer. Although shocked, I felt that for sure this vibrant 39 year-old mother would fight and beat this goliath that she was facing. As the months went by, the treatment began and I watched my friend Krista stand by her sister through everything.
Krista decided that she wanted to do a run in Philly, for LIVESTRONG that August, and while having dinner at Fireflies last July, before she moved back home to be with her sister, I said, count me in! So we ran in August. Although the drive involved a horrible storm, and a very late night arrival, Krista and I ran in Philly for Kass, and after the race I got to visit with Kass and their mom after the run, and we all sat in the sunlight and laughed at this horrible disease.
I came back from the run having been surrounded by, fight, I heard it and saw it everywhere, you can fight this, keep fighting, don’t give up, and to deal with the helplessness that I felt I wrote the song, “Fight” hoping that Kass could listen to it while she was going through treatment. That maybe this would help motivate her through the long fight ahead.
In November, a group of us from CrossFit OldTown, ran in the National Race to End Women’s Cancer, each wearing a shirt with a picture of Kass, running for her as she was not able to run but was continuing to fight. Krista and I ran together again, and we fought through every mile for Kass, we didn’t stop and we didn’t give up, together we ran.
Just a month ago I was able to bring a copy of “Fight” to Kass, and visit with her in the hospital, I was able to sit with Krista, her mom and Kass, and once again we laughed at this terrible disease. I hugged Kass as I left and said, “Just keep fighting!”
Kass did fight, she fought in the hospital, she fought at home, she fought through it all, and I watched in awe as her beautiful sister, Krista, cared, loved, listened, and laughed with her sister month after month.
On Monday our fight changed, Krista stood by her sister, and said her last good-bye. Now the fight is to keep moving forward, to keep Kass in our hearts, to fill each holiday with a new memory, to get through each day, sometimes just a minute at a time.
So what do you do when the fight seems like it’s over, you keep on moving, loving and laughing and trying to keep all of the beauty that was inside that person, that you felt and held and benefited from and share it with everyone that you can, and through it all recognizing that there is just this amazingly unfair crap that no one can explain or tell you why it is happening, that nothing anyone says will change the outcome, but know that through it all there will be people around you and that you will not do it alone. That when we are down and feel like we can’t get up, there are people there that will lift us to our feet, and in those moments we are reminded of that person that we lost, and although the space is never exactly filled it slowly, day by day, is changed.
Kass was a beautiful woman and my heart and love sits with her family over the next couple of days, I look forward to the small moments of laughter, love and family we will share on Saturday.
Pretty amazing. Perhaps the lasting legacy of this story is that Kass inspired Kate to write a song, Fight, and the song will live on forever as a tribute to Kass’s spirit! How awesome is that? You see, while Kate is not working on her PhD or doing her job for the U.S. Department of Education, she headlines in her own band and she is remarkable. She still plays “Fight” during her shows. She still tells Kass’s story before she sings. So, I now invite you to check it out on iTunes and download a copy and think of Kass. All proceeds will benefit the Team Kass Foundation.
Thank you, Kate, for your wonderful friendship. You do so much for so many. I cannot thank you enough for being there for me through this most difficult time of my life. But most of all, I thank you for taking the time to visit with Kass, to tell her that she inspired you, and to share her inspiration through your music. I know that your last visit with her meant so much to her. You left the hospital that day and she just smiled at the thought that she had inspired you to write a song! And, she proudly displayed the framed cover artwork that you gave her in her home. That moment that you created for her is forever imprinted on my heart.
Our family invited Kate to sing during Kass’s funeral mass. There was no other choice but to have Kate sing. And, she sang beautifully that day as the loveliest hymns filled the church: Be Not Afraid, On Eagle’s Wings, How Great Thou Art. I can barely type the words. But it was her a cappella version of Amazing Grace that will forever fill my heart. I already know that no matter how often we talk or how often we see each other, we are forever friends.
I close by writing that I still stand in awe of Kass. She had never even met Kate before she was sick, yet Kate saw something special in her. And, I have heard it from others who met Kass during this time: there was something inspiring in Kass’s eyes, there was calmness, there was acceptance, and there was peace….a strong sense that no matter what, everything would be okay. I miss her every day.
Over the past several months, we have been sorting through old photographs, letters, cards, emails, videos…..really anything we can find that links us with Kass. There have been so many amazing moments during this time that have forced us to pause, breathe, and smile. Sometimes, we cry. Most times, though, we simply laugh. Kass was so very funny. Some of the notes that she wrote over the years have helped to bring back our smiles and our laughter. We find that no matter what, there is always reason to believe, just as Kass always said, that everything will be okay.
Just yesterday we lived another one of these special moments. Dad called me in the afternoon. He said that he had recently taken an old computer into a local computer store to have any remaining files pulled from it. After he picked up the files yesterday, he found a writing that Kass had written back in 2000 when my parent’s dog Josh had died. Only five years old, he was struck by a car and killed near my parent’s home. Like a lot of families, we grow very connected to our pets and find peace in remembering them after they are gone. But, it is likely that no one, including Kass, had seen this tribute in many years. Yet, reading it now, brought a sense of such overwhelming peace. I share it with you below:
Reading it again now brings tears to my eyes. I feel so overwhelmingly sure that Kass’s words then were and continued to be at the core of her own beliefs and values. Our beliefs are our foundation, and as a family, we have been lucky that our foundation was filled with abundant love and the fundamental truth of God and Heaven. You are home now Kass, run free.
As last summer approached and her time on Earth was drawing to a loving and peaceful end, my sister Kass used to sit on her porch and watch the hummingbirds. She would sit quietly with her eyes closed and listen to them buzz around all of the beautiful flowers that surrounded her on her porch. We spent many hours talking there and just listening. She loved to watch the hummingbirds play. She said to me before she died, “Please do me a favor. Always have a hummingbird feeder at your house. No matter what. When you watch them, you can think of me. They have always been one of my favorite little birds.”
Two weeks before Kass died, I shared with her my plans to start a foundation in honor of her. Like a thousand other moments that are emblazoned in my mind, I will never forget that conversation. We were sitting on the deck of my parent’s cabin. The day was June 23, 2012, only 9 days before God called her home. I told her that I planned to call the foundation Team Kass, The Kathleen Paternostro Morgan Foundation and I showed her a simple mock up of the logo:
“Yes,” she said. “I love it. I love the hummingbird, too.” That day, she encouraged me to begin on this new journey. I have been thinking about it for many months now, and I know that I am now ready. As I begin on this new adventure….a permanent measure to honor a beautiful and graceful life gone too soon…. I wanted to make sure that I understood everything I could about the hummingbird.
It was so interesting for me to learn – although somehow I think I already knew – that the hummingbird is a symbol for peace, love and happiness:
Hummingbirds, called new world birds cause they are native to North America, Central and South America, are considered to be symbols of peace, love and happiness, moreover, ancient pagans held them sacred for their tireless energy and anxiety. In Native American culture, a hummingbird symbolizes timeless joy and the Nectar of Life. It’s a symbol for accomplishing that which seems impossible and will teach you how to find the miracle of joyful living from your own life circumstances. They are really spectacular birds, and have a lot to teach a person about self discovery and healing.
-Source: Animal-Speak: The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small
And just like that, the symbol of peace and love now also serves as our reminder to find the miracles of joyful living no matter what our circumstances. Kass continues to teach us to love even after she is gone. And, her legacy will continue through the love we show to one another. If you think about it, what else really matters?
In the coming months, please watch for more information here about Team Kass. I am sorting through our mission, vision, goals, etc. I am putting it out there now so that someday when we are ready, we can invite you to be a part of this amazing journey. There is so much that we can accomplish together with Kass as our inspiration. In her memory, we will continue to drink in the nectar of life.
What motivates this message? I was not going to write about this event until after it was over, but today I changed my mind. The deadline is looming for us to submit our In Memory Of cards for next week’s Dig the Cause event. When I collected the submissions from my family and collectively saw what they had created, I was inspired and saddened all at once.
This day next week is a big day. Not only is it LIVESTRONG Day around the globe, but next Tuesday, October 2 also marks the 3-month anniversary of Kass’s journey into Heaven.
3 months. Exactly 92 days ago we said goodbye to our sweet baby sister and held her hand for the very last time.
These pictures tell the story of how Kass’s life has influenced the youngest of us, her nieces and nephews, who love her and miss her every day. Please take a moment to see the inspiration and the love that Kass sprinkled over all of us during her 40 beautiful years on this Earth. Never to be forgotten. We love you, Kass. We miss you every day.
Another unbelievable experience, this one with just our family! We gathered in May 2012 for the Williamsport Relay for Life event, supporting the American Cancer Society, where we camped under the stars for Kass. We walked, we talked, and we loved. This was also where we took the last picture we ever posed for as a family. I will cherish it for all of time, but did not post it here.
Kass had just returned from the National Institutes of Health after another very long week. But, she really wanted to attend this event. So, she made the trip just in time for the survivor’s walk. We took turns pushing her around that track. What a wonderful day with our baby sister!
What an incredible experience! I am proud to have participated in the first-ever Team Kass event with two special friends….Casey Forbes and Rafael Matos. I still cannot believe that we did this ride, but here are some pictures that provide the evidence. It was a special day in honor of a beautiful soul and all of those who have gone before us, and for those who still continue to fight. May God bless you all!
“Her flowers still bloom, and the sun it still shines….” For you, sweet Kass!
On Saturday, 1 September 2012, our family gathered at my parent’s farm to dedicate Kass’s Memory Garden. My Dad had been working on this project for many weeks, and Kass had actually visited there with him several times during this spring. All of her favorite plants/flowers are planted there.
When we gathered in the garden that late afternoon it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We just know that Kass was there with us, as we could feel her with the soft breeze and we could see her in the bloom of each flower. Oh, how she loved her garden! She always found such peace and strength in nature. Solace and tranquility. She was so much like Dad in that way. Please enjoy the photographs that capture the beauty and essence of Kass through the flowers.
Everyone has a story. This is the truth as I know it and sometimes when we take the time to learn someone else’s story, it can profoundly impact our own. This is the story of my little sister, Kathleen.
I have always enjoyed a special bond with Kass. She may be the youngest born in our family of four siblings, but by far, she has proven to be the toughest. Last July, Kass was diagnosed with cancer at the young age of 39. Like others who have lived through this moment, Kass’s diagnosis has had a profound impact on her own life and the lives of all those who love her.
But, instead of focusing on the downside of this disease, we prefer to focus on the splendor that has come from Kass’s diagnosis. Those experiences that can only be realized when life forces you to live in the moment. Those moments that take your breath away for their pure simplicity and perfection. We have observed that with every setback and bit of bad news, we have always found that something hopeful and peaceful has followed. After the storm comes the rainbow. Such is the way with life. Such is the way with love.
Kass has accomplished much over the years, but her most important and meaningful role came in 2008 when she became a mother to her daughter, Josephine. I watch the interaction between them and I know that there will never be anything stronger than this bond. The love is amazing, the caring divine.
Kass has exhibited tremendous grace since this journey began. Her smile is contagious, and her sense of humor has kept us laughing on some of the very darkest days. She is my inspiration and an amazing example of what courage and strength really mean.
People often ask me why I want to do this ride. I have thought about this question a lot. The reasons that I will ride have not changed, but rather have only become more definitive in my mind and in my heart:
I will ride because I love my sister – and I will do whatever I can to see her be well again.
I will ride because I want to grow old creating memories with her – especially sharing in the joy of watching her baby girl grow up.
I will ride because I want to live in a different kind of world – a world where families do not have to watch someone they love be sick with this disease.
I will ride because I know Kass would do the same for me – it is the love between sisters, plain and simple.
I will ride because I believe in LIVESTRONG – because so much of Kass’s journey has been influenced by Lance Armstrong and LIVESTRONG’s mission of hope: Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.
I will ride because I want to make a difference – for all of those who courageously battle this disease every single day.
I will ride because I cannot envision not riding – I will live a purposeful life while I am alive to live it.
I will ride because I can…..
So this August, I will join my friend Casey and the countless others that we will recruit along the way. We will ride our bikes 100 miles through the rolling hills of south eastern PA during the Team LIVESTRONG Philly event. This will be my second Team LIVESTRONG event. I proudly ran the 10K last year with my friend Kate last August, just after Kass was diagnosed.
This year, we will ride for Kass because we love her. We will ride for Kass and for all of those who cannot ride. We hope that you will join our cause and consider making a donation to our team. It will be money well-invested into an organization that offers hope and inspiration to millions of people around the globe, but also in support of a family trying to do what is right for a sister they love.
This is Kass’s story. This is my story. It is the loving story of two sisters who want to live a long and beautiful life. And, there is more of our story left to tell.
I am truly honored and humbled to tell you about what you made possible through your generous donations to my LIVESTRONG ride in honor of my sweet sister, Kass. I know that this story is long, but I wanted to make sure that I captured every moment. This is a story that I want Kass’s daughter Josie to read when she gets older so I did not want to move past a moment of significance. The weekend just kept unfolding in front of me in one very emotional moment followed by another. This is how it all played out.
On the ride down on late Friday afternoon, the rain just poured over my car and my bike. It has been a long time since I have experienced rain that challenging. It was on that rain-drenched highway that the uncertainty started to creep in: Can I really do this? Will I even make it 10 miles, let alone 100? How will my body hold up, as I have not put in the proper time on the pedals? But, I knew in my heart that this was something I had to do. This was a part of my healing, my recovery from devastating loss, and a way to keep a promise that I made to my sister: a promise to honor her memory and to tell others about her life and about her courage to fight and about her determination to beat this awful disease. So many people had contributed to my ride, so many people had believed in me. And, I am no quitter. Never have been, never will be. Not doing this was never even an option.
But, I thought that my emotions might get the best of me. Unbelievably, Kass had died only 7 weeks before the ride. The pain was raw and the pain was real. The memories of last year’s Challenge weekend kept flooding through my mind. Kass had attended the fund-raising dinner with me last year. She told me later that it was one of the best nights in her cancer journey. She met her inspiration, Lance Armstrong. She talked to him about never giving up, fighting like hell, and doing whatever it takes. Tears fell down her cheeks as she proudly stood along with other cancer survivors introduced that night as the crowd cheered. I was so very proud of her. As long as I live, I will never forget that night. Not doing this race to honor my sister, well….that was just not in the cards. I was going to do this, and I was going to do this for her. No question about it. Not a doubt in my mind.
I arrived on Friday evening and after checking into my hotel, went to the packet pick-up at Montgomery County Community College, which was also the start/finish line for the weekend’s activities. But, before picking up my materials, I completed my In Memory Of card and clipped it onto the Tribute Wall. This is always an emotional part of the weekend, as we think about why we are there and the purpose by which we ride/run. This year, I reached for the In Honor Of card first, only to quickly correct myself because this year I will ride in memory of a beautiful soul gone too soon. I clipped the card onto the wall, and gave it a quick kiss. Tears? Yes, tears were a big part of this moment. Tears of love, tears of sorrow, tears of time lost, tears of moments yet to come, tears of hope, and tears of happiness….happiness that I was able to be here to be a part of this amazing weekend and to bring Kass’s name and memory out from the shadows and back into the light.
I stood in awe as I read the messages that had already been written on that wall and I was overwhelmed by the emotions likely attached to each and every story. I thought about my own journey with cancer as a caregiver for Kass. I thought about how my life will never be the same. I thought about all of those who continue to fight. I thought about those whom we have lost and the immense pain endured by those loved ones left behind. I thought about my own family and how hard we all fought to try to help Kass to win this battle, but in the end only to have no choice but to let her go. Then, I thought about the power that cancer has over our lives. I am not referring to the destructive power of cancer: changing lives, taking lives, and destroying families. Rather, I am talking about the positive power that comes from cancer. The power to move people to action. This is what LIVESTRONG is all about…..harnessing people’s personal stories into a movement of hope, inspiration, and love for people across the globe that share in the understanding of the cancer journey. That is what I saw in those messages: hope, peace, love, memories, sadness, struggle, heartache, joy, and inspiration.….it was all right there in front of me. I knew it was going to be a life-changing weekend. I just had no idea how life-changing.
The next morning, I woke early to be at the start for the 10K race. I decided since I was not running on Saturday, I would volunteer to help during the race. I checked in and received my blue volunteer shirt and nametag. I was asked to help to distribute the yellow survivor roses at the finish line. Once again, this was an emotional job but one that I was happy to do. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was shining. And, my friend Rafael was running in the 10K with Kass’s name on his back. It was an amazing morning, full of smiles, tears, laughter and joy. I was so happy to be there and I met so many wonderful and nice people at that finish line. Meeting Mary, Rich, and Brooke were three of the highlights of my day. All three were strangers to me when I arrived, but all three became my friend following our brief interactions. That is the thing about cancer. It provides an opportunity for people to care and to help one another. And the collective encouragement and kindness from these three helped me to make it through that very emotional experience.
And, as I applauded each runner that finished that race, I could not stop my mind from thinking, “What if?” What if Kass had lived? What if she could have been here with me this year? What if she had never had cancer? What if someday, somehow the world did not have to deal with cancer anymore? What if?
The rest of Saturday afternoon was spent preparing my bike for the big event. After having lunch with Rafael, we went to the local bike shop to shore up on our supplies for the long ride ahead. I had met some wonderful people on Friday night (Scott and Katie, among others), who were kind enough to help on my final bike tune-up, which it desperately needed after the hard rains. Then, it was time to prepare for the Fundraising Appreciation Dinner.
I asked my two teammates, Rafael and Casey, to meet me in the hotel lobby before we went to the dinner. When they arrived, we had a champagne toast and raised our glasses to officially inaugurate Team Kass. It was a real honor to have both of them on my team. Rafael had joined the team only 4 weeks before, but had done an exceptional job at fundraising and providing overall team support. He had come to know Kass this past spring and felt a connection to her, and she to him. When she died, he knew he had to ride. I was grateful that he did. And, when I saw Casey in the lobby that night, it was the first time I had been in her company in more than a decade. It is amazing how people will support you in a time of need. She had been a real source strength and encouragement to Kass along her journey. I knew that she would offer much to our team and I was not disappointed. Rafael and Casey met for the first time in the car ride over from their hotel to mine.
In the lobby on the way to dinner, I had a chance to introduce them to my dear LIVESTRONG staff friend, Mindy Boyum. Mindy has been my main contact at LIVESTRONG and has been a tremendous source of energy for Kass and my family over the past year. She is an inspiration to me, and it was so good to reconnect with her again.
When we arrived at the dinner location, the evening was just beautiful. The venue was lovely, as well. We checked in, grabbed a drink, and found our seats. Kass would have gotten a kick out of it, as we were seated at the head table. In addition to our 3-person team, I had invited our high school tennis and basketball coaches, Beth and Paula, to join us at the dinner. Both Beth and Paula had been amazing to Kass throughout the past year and I was so glad that they were able to attend. So there the five of us sat, at Doug Ulman’s table. At Lance Armstrong’s table. Pretty unbelievable. I was thrilled to have a chance to speak to Lance about Kass. I showed him the picture I had taken of the two of them the year before. I told him that she had lost her battle. I told him what an inspiration he was to her during her fight. I told him that she was the reason I was sitting there that night. I told him that it was because of her that I became involved in LIVESTRONG. And, it is because of her that I will never stop doing whatever I can do to support the fight to end this devastating disease.
But sitting with Lance was just one highlight of the evening. The others came with the rest of the dinner program. We heard a touching and moving tribute by former NFL linebacker, Chris Draft, about his wife Kaesha. As I watched the introductory video, I could not but help correlate all of it to Kass’s journey. So similar, yet so very different. But, when I heard him speak, I just knew that the similarity was there. Two young women in their late 30s diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. Two young women who did not want to lose this battle. Two young women who kept a smile despite very challenging times and a complex diagnosis. Two young women who always said, “whatever it takes” and “what’s next?” And, someone who loved one of these women standing at the podium asking, “What if you had just one more minute, just one more second…” Oh, I have said those same words thousands of times over the past 7 weeks! After the dinner, I went over to speak with him. I once again shared Kass’s story. I told him that he was an inspiration to me and to so many people. I told him that I plan to start a foundation for Kass. We posed for this picture. I just know that our paths will cross again someday.
The rest of the program honored the tremendous fundraising work of some wonderful and deserving LIVESTRONG volunteers. It is always energizing to hear the stories and the motivation that drive these passionate people to raise so much money for an organization that they love and believe in. Someday, I hope to stand on that podium and be able to share Kass’s story. Go Team Kass!
As I prepared for the big day, I was anxious and tired all at once. Since last year I did not ride, I had no idea what to expect the next day. This would be my first official bike race. This would be the farthest I had ever attempted to ride. I had trouble sleeping, and knew I had to wake early for the 7:30 a.m. start time.
But, as it is with every other new and uncertain journey in life, we just wake up and go. I met Casey and Rafael at the college at 7:00 a.m. We biked to the start line and took this picture. Whoa, the nerves were running through me. I felt like I was in over my head, which I most certainly was. We made our way to the 100 mile corral and talked about our strategy. We quickly realized that we really did not have a strategy other than that we should all cross the finish line safely. That will work!
As we made our way to the start line, I could not help but hear a shout from the spectators “Go Team Kass” the voice yelled. What? Unfortunately, for many reasons no one in my family was able to make it to the race, which I certainly understood. But, when I looked to my left I saw an old friend from high school – Kim and her friend Jo – shouting from the sidelines. It was then that I realized they had been following our posts on Facebook about the race and had decided to come down for the day. How amazing is that? I still have no words for what that truly meant to me. Kass would have smiled at the thought of it. Not only were they there for the start, they actually found us on the course to cheer us on, and they were there as we crossed the finish line.
Never underestimate the power of people to come back into your life just when you need them most. Thank you, Kim for your kindness, encouragement, and support.
Now as we pedaled past the podium at the start line, I gestured to the announcers about our team jerseys. “And, there goes Team Kass!” “Riding in memory of Kathleen Morgan,” they announced to the crowd. I was so proud in that moment! I had designed our riding jerseys with Kass’s picture on our backs so that as people passed us, they could see who we were riding for. I also included her words that still echo through my mind every day. Kass used these words all of the time, but especially as the prognosis continued to worsen: “Everything will be okay.” You see, it was always she who was comforting us. That was her gift. And today, I try to live by these words no matter how hard things seem.
The ride itself became a personal odyssey for me, as I am sure it was for my teammates. I know with complete confidence that my sister was with me on that ride. Those hills are grueling and no one is spared during this ride. I have complete respect for riders who had come to that course ready to ride. Some were in amazing shape and those hills (we called them mountains) were no match for their strength and determination. My teammates were among those who were ready. Me, on the other hand….I was not. And I knew it. Yet somehow, in those quiet moments on the open road as I was pedaling all alone, I kept talking with Kass. And from somewhere deep inside of me, I found the strength to just keep pedaling. I believe that it was she who pushed me up those hills.
We felt strong at the beginning and then things began to test our endurance and our will to actually do this. Casey suffered two flat tires within the first 20 miles of the race. Rafael fell onto his injured elbow right after the first tire change. I was overcome with the emotions of the entire experience, not sure if I could find the strength to finish the ride. And so it went. One setback after another. And, with each setback, a moment of reflection and wisdom from Kass, “Now what? What’s next? Let’s go.” And, on we rode.
We missed the 100 mile cut by about 25 minutes. This meant that we were re-routed onto a 77-mile ride instead of the 100-mile ride. After what seemed like 10 straight miles of hills, we thought 77 miles would be a pretty respectable distance. And, it was. But, around mile 40, leg cramps set in. I know from years of participating in sports and exercise that I had not prepped my body for the demanding toll this ride would take and now I was going to pay for it.
The hills were the worst. Not only are they psychologically tough, they actually forced both calf muscles to seize up whenever I started to climb. I knew I had no choice but to take off my shoes and walk to the top of some of the steepest climbs. Anyone who has ridden with leg cramps knows exactly what I am talking about. I was inspired though, as I cannot tell you how many people talked to me as I walked and they rode by, “Cramps?” they would say and then they would toss me their best remedy to ease the pain. I had gels, wafers, honey stingers, etc. all thrown to me from anonymous riders. It was like a community of people that did not know me, but wanted to make sure I made it to that finish line. It was unbelievable and I was grateful.
My big crash happened on one of those hills. As I started up, thinking for some reason that this hill would be different, the cramps started again in both legs. Bad. So bad that I squeezed my brakes but forgot to unclip from the bike and over I went. Right in the middle of the road. I was crying out in pain. Casey and Rafael stopped and came to my aid. So did other riders. I think they thought I broke my leg. But no, just cramps. The medic arrived and asked if I was okay. By this time, I was okay. Once I took off my left shoe I was able to relieve the pain. At this point, it seemed a little too much to have so many people off of their bike trying to help me. It was great though. And, this is where my path crossed with John. He came out of nowhere. He is a tri-athlete and was doing the 100-mile loop. He had made the time cut and was on his way back toward the finish line. He stayed there with us to make sure that I was okay. He then insisted that I take some of his drink from his water bottle. He promised me that it would help with the cramps. He called it his homemade “ironman powerade”. I did not know John, but I was desperate for a remedy. I poured some into my water bottle, added some water and drank it. All of it. This, along with the other remedies people had offered, worked and the last 20 miles of the ride seemed more bearable. No more walking, no more debilitating cramps. Thank you, John, and all of those with names I do not know, for helping me through.
Toward the end of the ride, I could begin to feel myself weaken physically, emotionally, and mentally. My teammates helped me to make it through. I cannot thank them enough for believing in me. And as I crossed that finish line, I could not hold back the tears. I was overcome with so many emotions: unconditional love for Kass and sadness over all that I had witnessed her go through over the past year; longing for just a little more time with her; wishing she could have been at the finish line to see what we had done as a team to honor her; pride over actually crossing that finish line – which at times seems doubtful during the ride; but most of all, I felt tremendous hope. Hope for all of those who still fight and hope for those of us left behind. Hope for Kass’s beautiful daughter, Josie that she will continue to grow in love and be surrounded by happy memories of her Momma taken too soon. And, for the first time since Kass had died, I actually thought that maybe I really could find a way to live in this world without her. Maybe I could honor her life by continuing to be a part of these types of experiences where I have a chance to tell people her story and about how hard she fought to live? Maybe, just maybe, everything would be okay?
Sunday night was filled with the normal emotions that follow any challenging athletic test. I was exhausted and energized. Ready to sleep and ready to party. At the end of the day, sleep won out. I was wiped out. Just before I headed back to my room, I was standing at the bar talking to some of my LIVESTRONG friends when someone mentioned that the announcers from the race, Rich and Chris, were sitting at the bar. I knew that I had to talk to them. I had to thank them for announcing our team as we started this journey. We were such a small team compared to the others. Only three of us. It meant so much to hear our name at the start. As I spoke with them, they were very nice and asked me “Which team?” “Team Kass” was all that I replied. In an amazing moment, I realized that with just that little bit of information they actually remembered our team. They remembered our red jerseys, they remembered Kass’s picture, and they remembered the words at the bottom of our jerseys. They remembered. I was so taken aback at this that it brought me to tears. I proceeded to tell them all about Kass. I told them about her fight to live. I told them that I am on a personal quest to keep her memory alive. I told them that I want to do whatever I can to help others going through this experience. “Keep going,” Chris said. “You are doing great! Keep going.” He had no idea, but those words were very timely and just what I needed to hear. As you may suspect, when everything around you feels sad and you are grieving, it is easy for the doubt to creep in. Thank you for your words, Chris. “Keep going.” I promise you that I will.
Within a day after returning from Philly, Team Kass decided that we wanted to do more. We are now moving Team Kass down south and will ride the 45-mile course in Austin, Texas for the Team LIVESTRONG Challenge Austin on October 21, 2012. We would love to have your sponsorship support. We need to raise $20K in just 5 weeks. But, just like Kass used to say, “Whatever it takes.” We believe that nothing can stand in the way of the passion we feel about why we ride. We feel confident that others will feel our enthusiasm and embrace our cause. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” – Robert Louis Stephenson
So what does participating in these LIVESTRONG events mean to me? For me, I walked away from this Challenge weekend with some new friendships formed, old friendships strengthened, and a renewed sense of commitment to this cause. I want to share Kass’s story with the world. I want to do my part to make sure that other families do not have to endure what Kass and our family endured. I want to be surrounded by those involved in this organization that truly care and are trying to make a difference. In many ways, I think of the yellow LIVESTRONG band as a circle of hope. Because within that circle you will always find love, understanding, acceptance, and a sense that no matter what, “everything will be okay”.
Families Helping Families in the Fight Against Cancer