Sunday, February 4, 2018

Always A Lady Hiltopper

I think there has always been a bit of a connection between Grace and the Hillsboro girls basketball team, even before she was diagnosed with infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy. In my head I probably envisioned her out there on the court someday, although if she would have inherited my athletic ability, on the bench may have been more likely. Regardless of my motives, we took Grace to quite a few games when she was little, including a regional game in Greenville that she wandered up and down the bleachers probably 50 times. We got an amazing picture of her holding on to Mary's fingers, sporting a orange Hiltopper shirt and a huge smile.

Grace and the Lady Hiltoppers
The connection has continued to grow as our journey with INAD has gone on. The team was one of the first ones to embrace us and make us special. Not long after Grace was diagnosed, one of our friends from church, Peggy Cooper, asked if Mary and I were planning on bringing Grace to senior night. We said we were, but in true Herschelman fashion, we were late. Little did we know that the team had planned to make Grace an honorary Lady Hiltopper and sported purple Gracelets, a huge deal considering they were playing purple-clad Litchfield. The team made us feel like Grace was truly part of the Lady Hiltoppers. 

The Lady Toppers made signs for their Grace night game!
We still feel that way. Each group has been special and each has taken time to make sure that Grace felt like part of the Topper family. Even though Grace has lost some of her skills, she still seems to really enjoy the games. She's always liked the noise and the people, especially the people that come over and talk to her. This year though, was a little different. We were supposed to go when Hillsboro played Litchfield again this year, but for the first time that we could remember, we had to cancel.

The Lady Toppers signed a shirt for Grace.
Grace came down with a slight fever and we thought it would be better if she stayed home that night. Coach Bret Tuetken was super understanding and I promised the team that Grace would be back before the end of the season. Still, it was a hard night. Not only that we missed an opportunity to give Grace another experience, but because we never know whether Grace's next illness is going to lead to another hospital stay for pneumonia. It's happened once and even though it wasn't a terrible experience, it's horrifying to Mary and I. One of the things that helped us though was that the Hillsboro girls took a picture with the signs they made for Grace and shared it with us on Twitter. 

Charley loves to show support for our Grace-Filled Journey.
Fortunately, Grace's fever went away and hasn't been back for more than a week now. She still has a bit of a cough, but she's better and Thursday, we got to make more memories with the Lady Toppers. We were late, as usual, but we still got to see three quarters of a magnificent game against Nokomis, who has also shown us a lot of love on our journey. After the game, we went around and thanked some of the players in person and were about to leave when one of the players, Kylie Meier, asked if the team could take a picture with Grace. While a bunch of the players were nearby, several came sprinting over to make sure they were in on the moment. They had given Grace a signed practice shirt, which she wore that night, but the photo of these players with our little girl is one of the most meaningful keepsakes we could have received.

Hanging with my favorite girls at the game!
We always feel fortunate that the players take time out of what they are doing to talk to Grace and make her feel special. At a certain point, I think Mary and I thought that the newness would wear off, for lack of better words, and that the teams would not necessarily forget about Grace, but wouldn't embrace our family as much. That hasn't been the case. The support from our community has grown stronger and stronger. No matter what happens, we know that Grace will always be a Lady Hiltopper, even if she never puts on the uniform. And the Lady Hiltoppers, past present and future, will always be a part of Team Grace.


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