- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

EL PASO, Texas (AP) - The heart can be so heavy at times - a huge weight that brings rivers of tears rushing down cheeks, that covers a soul in sadness, that shuts down the entire body.

It is no time to be alone.

The El Paso Times (http://bit.ly/2ekopQ8 ) reports Mackenzie German and Gina Soto were there for their teammate and friend Nicole Lindsay, a young woman, barely more than a girl, whose heart felt too heavy to carry after the death of her mother in late October 2013.

And so three young women - soccer teammates at the University of Texas at El Paso and friends forever - pulled their mattresses out into the dormitory floor.

And then it was November and then December, and still the mattresses were there and still the heart was so heavy.

“I lost my mom right after I came here,” said Lindsay, now 21 and a senior. “We were together 24/7. She was my coach, my manager, my best friend. We drove together from one soccer practice to another. We were in that car all the time. We lived in that vehicle together. I spent 24 hours a day with that woman. She died on Oct. 23, 2013. We play on Sunday, Oct. 23. I always dread October. Some days are still really sad. And October is always hard.”

But Lindsay found strength - a silent co-pilot, a will that can lift even the heaviest of hearts - and got through it.

“My mom came to every one of my games and she was there when I was at home for practices,” she said, smiling slightly. “That’s why I’m not so sad all the time. I had so many great times with her. I have so many great memories. Some people didn’t have that at all.”

It can never be easy to lose your mother, your best friend, your soccer and travel buddy. Some days are still hard. Some days the heart is still heavy.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Lindsay knows she is not alone in her loss, in the horrible grief that cancer can bring. The UTEP soccer team’s pink donation is made in the name of Lindsay’s mother, Shelley.

Thanks to her UTEP family, Lindsay has never been alone.

“I was still grieving,” Lindsay said. “We pulled our mattresses down there and we slept there for two months. They never left me. They took care of me. They were there when I cried. They made sure I ate. They made sure I went to class.”

German and Soto have graduated and now Brianna Barreiro is there.

“Bri is my roommate and she is such a special person and such a great friend,” Lindsay said. “Her mom has helped so much, too. She’s so nice, so sweet. She invites me over to their house all the time. I am so thankful for Bri and her mom.”

Barreiro said Lindsay has become one of her best friends.

“I know I can rely on her for anything,” Barreiro said. “We are together 24/7. That was definitely so hard for her and it takes a really strong person to come through that. She is someone who has helped me through so many things. Nicole is like a sister to me. She knows my mom is there for her, too. Nic is just an amazing person.”

Lindsay is now a key member of the Miner senior class. UTEP plays at home against Florida Atlantic on Sunday afternoon.

“I’m not sure how she was able to get back in school and play soccer after (her mother’s death),” UTEP coach Kevin Cross said. “I don’t think any of us can ever know how bad she was hurting. We can only imagine. It’s a credit to her character and how strong a person she is. I know it was hard for her to come back but it was for the best. UTEP soccer was her family and she was able to get her education. Nicole is just really a special person.”

She serves as president of the UTEP Student Athletic Advisory Committee and is a member of the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll. She will graduate in May with a degree in business with an emphasis on marketing.

Lindsay was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, in Canada. Her mother started her in soccer when she was 4 years old and she never stopped loving the game, never took a break from it. She played on the U15 national team and was in the U17 national training camp.

She had plenty of college offers, but she found her way to UTEP.

“(Cross) was the most persistent,” she said, smiling. “He’s been great. He’s serious when we need to be serious but he’s been someone I can laugh and joke with, too. He told me this college experience would fly by. I was a freshman and I told him it was not flying by. But now it has flown by. It’s been amazing and I know we are going to win these last games. I’m so excited. This is the time to peak. This is the time to perform.”

Soccer became more important to her than she ever thought possible, Lindsay said.

“It was something my mom and I shared,” she said. “But this place just took hold of me - the girls, the program, the university, the city. You know, I doubted my UTEP experience in the beginning. You just start thinking. I thought maybe I should have been home with my mom while she was going through chemo and going through surgery. But I know it wouldn’t have changed anything and I know she wanted me to be here.”

She recalls the phone call telling her she needed to come home.

“(Cross) got a call when we were in the airport, handed me the phone and they told me I needed to come home,” she said softly. “I guess I didn’t understand the urgency. I caught a flight right then and I got home that afternoon. She died that night. Everybody said she waited for me. So I got to see her one last time.”

The final two games at University Field will be overflowing with emotion for this young woman.

Sunday is Oct. 23, the day she said goodbye to her mother three years ago. Friday night, Oct. 28, vs. Southern Mississippi, will be Senior Night … the night parents come in and walk their daughters to midfield before the game.

Lindsay paused and said, “My mom’s four best friends are coming in to walk me on Senior Night.”

Some days are still so sad. Some days the heart is heavy again.

But Lindsay will have her mother’s friends and she will have Barreiro and her family and she will have her entire UTEP soccer family by her side.

“I had so much with my mom, more than a lot of people ever had,” she said. “But I’ll miss a lot, too - like a wedding and my kids and so many other things.”

Pausing, then smiling a big and bright and beautiful smile, she said, “I know she’s watching all my games now anyway. And it’s probably easier for her.”

Her mother Shelley - an accountant, soccer enthusiast, loving mother and so much more - was only 48 years old.

Lindsay is certainly her mother’s daughter. She’s bright and strong and funny and independent and gifted.

And, even though there are some days when the heart is heavy, days when that evil word “cancer” weighs down the soul - there are far more days now when the heart is light and happy and treasuring beautiful memories and welcoming a beautiful future.

Those, most certainly, are the days Shelley would have wished for her daughter.

___

Information from: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com

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