Making Lemonade with Mego

By Carlee Buck, Head Coach, Lenoir-Rhyne University @LRUwlacrosse

I don’t think I would be completely off base in saying that most of you reading this probably know very little, if anything at all about Megan Smith. What I do know is that you’re compelled each week, just as I am, to take a peek at the newest blog entry on “Behind the Whistle.” While I’m not specifically going to address any riveting moment or epic achievement in my coaching career, provide you with a “how to” on winning championships, or give you my thoughts on the early recruiting process, I am going to try to use my words to tell you a little bit about a relatively new member of our coaching community, the incredible human being she is, and her recent diagnosis with Osteosarcoma.

Megan Smith and Carlee Buck - courtesy of the author.
Megan Smith and Carlee Buck. Courtesy of the author.

I met Megan, or “Mego” as we call her, a little over four years ago, in August 2012 when I arrived at Limestone College as an assistant coach. Megan was a sophomore at the time, and I will never forget my first interactions with her. I had just driven across the country to make my first day of work, which was also conveniently our first day of practice, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this crew. Needless to say, I survived the gauntlet of day one, not without help from some random less than well-fitting clothes that Scott Tucker had tossed on my desk, his “formal” introduction that followed practice, and two sophomores that took it upon themselves to provide a more thorough introduction of one another. One of those sophomores happened to be Mego. She told me a knock-knock joke (I laughed and have no idea what she actually said), told me she had metal in her back, and introduced her friend “Miley,” a classmate more commonly known as Sammy McCarrick. Her awkward smirk paired with her painful (and ever so slightly amusing) knock-knock jokes not only provided me with a little bit of light on that day, but have continued to do so for the past four years — more than she will ever know. Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I’m the worst story-teller ever, so if I attempted to try to tell any kind of story that lasted for four years – you’d all be in for a real treat. I’m sparing you, I promise.

As a player, Megan filled that intricate role that each of our teams can’t live without. She was dependable, coachable, committed, supportive, a mom to the rest of the team, and loyal to a fault. While she may have seen less minutes on the game field than some, she saw no fewer minutes on that practice field, and probably saw a record breaking amount of minutes in the athletic training room. Megan was also casually (sarcasm font on) involved in every club and organization on campus that had a heartbeat, and essentially ran most of those. She was my go-to tour giver, my study hall sub, and often a “crappycbart” editor (“crappycbart” is how the team referred to my game day art or insta-collages). Mego was, and is, just one of those players you could count on for anything and everything. All of her teammates that I have spoken with agree that she was that kind of teammate. Near the end of our regular season, and actually on a game day in 2013, Megan lost her father to his fight with pancreatic cancer. Shortly before that as she was going through a series of let downs in her own life, as well as with her father’s health, I shared a phrase with her that I had always used about “when life gives us coconuts we’re going to make lemonade anyway.” Ever since then it’s just sort of something we have revisited whenever life has decided to toss something the complete opposite of “lemon-like” her way.

Megan completed her coaching internship with me throughout the fall of 2014 and then eventually through the spring, and continuing after her graduation in the summer of 2015 with Saints Lacrosse Club. She took a sincere interest in being a part of our recruiting process with recruiting on campus, providing tours to recruit and their families, and even helping educate our young club players about the recruiting process. I have spent a considerable amount of time with her in a variety of roles over the course of the past few years, and she has become a surrogate mom to my four-legged son Dobbler.   One thing that was always clear was Megan’s aspiration to become a coach.

In 2014, Megan was named the IWLCA Division II Community Awareness Award Winner, an honor she more than deserved. She truly believes in being a part of something bigger than herself, and genuinely cares about making the lives of those around her better. Megan walked across the stage at Limestone in May 2015 (following her awesome graduation speech as SGA President), and shortly after took a part time role in the athletics department as an administrative assistant. Later that summer, she accepted a position in the Limestone Admissions Office, with the hope to dually begin her coaching career on our staff as a volunteer. She worked tirelessly to maximize her time on the field with us, even though it wasn’t the most ideal situation to gain the coaching experience she wanted. Earlier this summer, Megan was offered and accepted the head coaching position at Converse College. She has always been incredibly passionate about coaching and hopeful to one day be able to provide student-athletes with a similar experience to her own. She has welcomed this opportunity, and all of the challenges presented to her, with optimism and determination. She couldn’t wait to meet her players this fall and have them on campus so she could begin developing a program of her own.

This summer after the IWLCA Capital Cup, when Megan mentioned that when she bent down to take a post dinner photo she felt something pop in her knee, it truthfully did not come as a surprise. She also half-heatedly made fun of the idea that she had fallen, yet again, victim to her injury prone lifestyle. As a couple of weeks went by and the pain seemed to only get worse, she would just go about her day with her “grin and bear it” attitude, because that’s what she does. After eventually getting in to the doctor and being told she had likely torn something, this was treated like all other obstacles Megan has overcome: a plan was being prepared to get her through the fall with her team, and how we would make sure Maxwell (her boxer) would be taken care of, and we would proceed to chalking it up as another opportunity for lemonade. What we didn’t know is that all of this planning would soon be altered as she went in to have her MRI read on August 25.

I don’t need to go in to the details of the emotions that my phone call with her entailed, but all I knew is that I couldn’t get home fast enough to hug her. The weeks since have been made up of multiple doctors’ appointments, trips to and from Georgia, some quality roommate time with myself, and a plan being put in place for when her chemo would begin. They have also consisted of the inspiring will that Megan possesses, as she planned to start kicking cancer’s ass. While all this has been happening, Megan has done nothing but worry about all of those around her; her family, her friends, her players, and her program. Her biggest concerns have not been the delay in starting chemo so that she could work through fertility doctor appointments, or the fact that her 24th birthday would now lead up to her first round of chemo – but the hope to plan her chemo schedule around her practices, fall tournaments, the IWLCA Convention, and President’s Cup tournament!  It is impossible for me to describe how much Megan cares about the career she has chosen, but more importantly how there is nothing she is willing to let stand in the way of how she is able to positively impact those around her and do her “job.”

I truly cannot put in to words what Megan has to offer our profession, each person she crosses paths with, and this world. I have said before that she is quite possibly the single most selfless human being I have ever met. The past month has been extremely trying for Megan, her twin sister Nicole, and her mom – but in true Megan fashion, she has accepted this challenge head-on and continues to show her unconquerable strength. My goal, amidst my scattered thoughts of trying to share with you all a little bit of Mego, is not to ask you to jump through hoops to help her and her family as they begin their fight, because I know each of you have personally in some way been affected by the suckiness that is cancer. My goal is to help provide Mego with the kind of inspiration, belief, and courage that as coaches we all subconsciously thrive on. The power of some encouraging words, and the idea that “Team Mego” does not only consist of her family, close friends, her former teammates and her players, but all of her fellow coaches and the greater lacrosse community.

“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.”

Mego has always chosen to run the day, no matter what it presents her. I will be forever inspired by the way she lives her life, cares for those around her, and her unyielding will to persevere. As she begins her fight, I don’t want her to have to ask for the support and encouragement she will need, nor would she ever do so. My hope is that we can all provide Mego with the reassurance that when the coconuts and vegetables start flying her way, that Team Mego will be there to ensure she continues making her lemonade.

Editor’s Note: Megan Smith is scheduled to begin chemotherapy during the first week of October. Her family and friends have set up a Caring Bridge page to help Megan stay connected and keep everyone updated while she battles cancer. Visit Megan’s Caring Bridge Page 

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