The Norman Transcript

Local news

September 30, 2012

Coale's pink ladder

Team galvanizes hope, determination

NORMAN — I bought a pink ladder. It happened in a backward sort of upside down way, but it was for a great cause so I didn’t mind writing the check at all. I have to admit, however, that I had no idea what I was going to do with a really expensive ladder, especially a pink one.

So when it arrived on my doorstep, I called my equipment manager to bring a truck out to ferry it to its new home, our gym. A few borderless ideas were already forming in my head; I would find a way to use it. We’d make it matter, I just wasn’t sure quite how.

It was on a Wednesday a couple of weeks later when I met with my team. We were in our film room. A stack of stats sat in front of me, a teaching edit was waiting to be played on the projector, and a pink ladder stood copiously in the front corner of the room. The 2012 season was in the books and my tremendous group of warriors, still a bit gaunt and more than a wee bit agitated about the premature end of their season, were strung out across the room.

On that seemingly innocuous Wednesday, we talked about all the things you talk about when a season ends. And then we talked about all the things you talk about when you prepare for another -- one that you’d like to see end a whole lot differently. Then I introduced them to the elephant in the room: my ladder.

I told them the brief, abridged version of how it got here to Norman, Oklahoma, and then I told them how special it was going to be for our team.

We talked about the Kay Yow Foundation. We talked about Coach Yow and her courageous battle with this insidious disease, we talked about the power of our platform as a collegiate team of women, and we talked about the symbolism of a ladder in our gym all off season: the daily reminder it could be to us of where we want to go and what it takes to get there.

Then I launched my plan for our pink ladder. I introduced our team to the concept of six-word memoirs: life statements power packed into only six words, usually simple ones strung together in formidable ways. (Think Twitter as a euphemistic Shrinky Dink.) There is a website; I have a book. We looked at examples — some created raucous laughter, others brought tears. Then I asked our team to come up with their own six-word memoirs reflective of their lives as athletes. What six words could encapsulate their respective journeys?

I gave them one week to formulate their own and tattoo it on the pink ladder in Sharpie marker. Their words would be a territorial mark on the symbolic tool that would spur them on over the summer months.

You could almost see the wheels racing in their heads. This group “got it.” They would run with this idea. I could tell. And I could not wait to see what next Wednesday held.

Then on Friday, life threw us a curve ball, and the ladder took on a life of its own.

The biopsy came back positive

My 16-year assistant, my college teammate, the maid of honor at my wedding, and my team’s rudder had breast cancer.

It was the call you never want to get. The words you never want to hear. Reality morphed immediately into a slow-motion slosh through phone calls and emails and ‘to do’ lists that helped us feel like we were somehow in charge of it all, though deep down inside we knew we were running in place.

Telling the team was the worst, I think. For those who had nursed loved ones through their own heavyweight fights with cancer, the response was courageous defiance. We could all put a face and a name with what was about to happen — the journey had a form for us. But for those who had never been down such a path, the terror was mysterious and raw. We prayed together. Whit led her peers with the wisdom and the strength of a woman twice her age. And the days sloshed on.

Pink Ladder due date, May 2, came and went. Jan Ross and I were otherwise engaged. We set the surgery date, met with each member of the cancer fight team and did the “hurry up and wait” deal like we were professionals. Then one afternoon during an itchy spell when we’d checked off all the items on our respective lists, I thought about the ladder and asked if she’d like to go down to see it. I secretly wondered if our players had even remembered what I’d asked them to do, much less gotten around to doing it. In the fog of the last few days it would have been an easy forget. And no one would have blamed them for the whiff.

Except they didn’t. Whiff that is. Our guys hit that curve ball smooth out of the park.

Their six-word memoirs graced the legs of the ladder, each neatly printed in individual fonts. I could almost see the ghosts of their personal gravitas as they traced them there. It’s really not an exercise you can do lightly. Then in the middle of trying to match memoir with athlete, we saw it: the six words, each written elegantly, yet with “I mean it” bravado, on its own rung. Our team’s mission for the year ahead: “Playing for our Rock, Coach Ross.”

Precious, priceless moment.

That pink ladder matters. And though I sure didn’t see it coming, now I know exactly how.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local news
  • N7 Sooners come together to serve Native American youth

    Whitney Wofford has faced some tough competition as a part of the Oklahoma tennis team. However, on Wednesday, Wofford may have taken on her biggest and most rewarding competition yet at the Sooners For N7 event at the Oklahoma football ...

    April 10, 2014 3 Photos

  • Norman High Speech and Debate Team wins state championship

    Briar White’s heart pounded in his chest as he clasped the hands of several classmates and Booker T. Washington High School was announced as the second-place finisher. White said he was elated to hear second place announced because he ...

    April 16, 2014

  • General fund continues to decline as expenses exceed anticipated revenues

    Norman’s expenses will again outstrip projected revenue in the current budget before the city council. The budget for the fiscal year that starts in July and ends June 30, 2015, projects $210,982,020 in total revenues and $213,436,778 in ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Norman students accepted to arts institute

    OKLAHOMA CITY — Forty-nine Norman high school students have been accepted to the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute at Quartz Mountain, an arts academy hosted June 14-29 in southwestern Oklahoma. The Norman students were among 270 artists ...

    April 16, 2014

  • OU History of Science Department receives Sloan Foundation Grant

    The University of Oklahoma History of Science Department has received a $350,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in support of a project to build an innovative tool for collaborative research centered on the 100-year-old Isis ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Norman High, North named top schools in nation

    Norman High and Norman North have once again been identified as two of the most rigorous high schools in the state and nation. The Washington Post’s 2014 Most Challenging High Schools list, the first of annual national high school ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Oklahoma Water Survey data web portal to be demonstrated next week

    A new tool is available from the Oklahoma Water Survey, at the University of Oklahoma, for organizations in the state that collect and use water data. Oklahoma Water Survey Director Robert Puls will demonstrate Phase I of a new water data ...

    April 16, 2014

  • Norman teachers excited about professional development

    Norman Public Schools’ teachers are focused on students and want to take advantage of professional development, Beth Spears, director of Staff Development and Student Achievement, said was the overall response teachers had to a recent ...

    April 15, 2014

  • Social justice dialogue part of University of Oklahoma program

    The University of Oklahoma kicked off Justice Week with a public forum Monday titled “Luis Rodriguez: No en Vano.” Critically acclaimed author, Esmeralda Santiago discussed the “Transformative Power of Art,” while joining five panelists ...

    April 15, 2014

  • Storm scavengers now could face felony charges

    OKLAHOMA CITY— It wasn’t long after a devastating tornado hit Moore last year that scavengers were circling the wreckage. Already reeling, Moore residents had a new concern — fending off looters....

    April 15, 2014

Video
Facebook