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Kate Murphy '15 honors Elon friendship with touching essay

In the piece, the Cincinnati Enquirer higher education reporter reflects on her experience as an Elon soccer player and her relationship with teammate and friend Nicole "Colie" Dennion, who died in 2016. 

Kate Murphy '15 (Photo: The Enquirer/Meg Vogel)

Ever since she learned in November about the death of her teammate and friend Nicole "Colie" Dennion, Kate Murphy '15 had been looking for the right words to express what Colie had meant to her.

She eventually found the words and poured them in a personal essay that was recently published by the Cincinnati Enquirer, where she works as a higher education reporter. Titled "How I grew up: the story of Colie and me," the essay tells the story of their friendship, the pain she and the rest of her teammates suffered after losing Colie to cancer, and how, in the end, Kate is a better, stronger person because of Colie. 

Kate and Colie met during Kate's sophomore year at Elon University, where both played for the women's soccer team. Almost immediately, Colie made an impression on Kate. "She was someone you always wanted on your team if you had any hope of winning," she wrote in the essay. "More importantly, though, she had this way of inspiring everyone around her to run a little a faster, play a little harder and never give up."

Below is the full text of Kate's essay, which first appeared on the Cincinnati Enquirer's website June 2:

Seven months ago I was standing at a grave site in Burlington, New Jersey.

I looked around at a group of girls who I’d stood behind as the national anthem played on our home field, screamed at to touch the line during fitness tests and hoped to motivate in the locker room with speeches before big games. I thought, we shouldn’t all be gathered like this, dressed in black, each waiting to place a single flower on our teammate’s casket before it’s lowered into the ground.

But in that same moment, I thought how blessed we were to have known this remarkable young woman. To have been given this gift of knowing her. It won’t be taken for granted. I won’t let it.

College years are supposed to be the time in your life where you not only find yourself, but choose who you want to be and how you want to live. My teammate Nicole “Colie” Dennion did that. 

Somehow, Colie found joy in the journey, strength in the darkest of times and a purpose in a life that lasted just 22 years.

What you need to know about Colie is that she was a fierce competitor. The game of soccer defined much of her life. She earned a scholarship to play for a Division 1 program at Elon University, which is where I met her. I was a sophomore when she came in as this feisty little freshman from Jersey. So, you can imagine she wasn’t the quietest person on the team and you certainly weren’t going to tell that girl she couldn’t do something. And if you did, she proved you wrong.

She was someone you always wanted on your team if you had any hope of winning. More importantly, though, she had this way of inspiring everyone around her to run a little a faster, play a little harder and never give up.

During February of her sophomore year at Elon, Colie noticed a small bump on the right side of her rib cage. It was a tumor the size of a baseball.

She was diagnosed with a rare cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma. It was devastating for all of us.

Just three months before that, Colie ended her sophomore season as the Southern Conference Women's Soccer Player of the year, after leading the league in goals and helping us reach the finals of the SoCon Tournament. Colie was hands down the best player to ever wear an Elon jersey.

She was buried in that jersey, if that tells you anything about what this program meant to her and us.

For two years, Colie fought a battle that a healthy young woman should not have to.

When soccer was taken from her, Colie sat us down in the locker room and told us we better play with everything we have every time we step out on that field because it could be the last. At that moment, I gained a greater appreciation for the privilege I had to play a game I love and I started to see life through a different lens.

I was going to play for her and fight this thing by her side. As a captain, I knew it was my job to motivate my team to do the same. We were in it together.

Colie underwent multiple surgeries, fought through chemotherapy twice and through it all she stayed on top of her school work, even completing an internship to ensure she would graduate with her class.

She beat cancer once and came back to Elon as a full-time student-athlete, even getting back on the field and in the weight room.

Then, almost a year to the date of her diagnosis, a routine scan turned into another nightmare. The doctors found several small tumors in the same area.

Colie found purpose in her life. And I’d like to think part of that purpose was to change our lives for the better. I am stronger. I am more courageous. I am kinder, thanks to her.

Kate (far right), Colie and their Elon roommates.

Colie started chemotherapy again, this time at a local hospital so each of us could sit with her during treatments every day. Sure, we were scared. I know I was. That’s something 18- to 22-year-olds shouldn’t have to do. But that fear fades and the other stuff going on in your life can wait when your best friend is fighting for her life.

She moved into an apartment a few houses down from me for the spring semester. It was during that time with her that I learned there is always room for laughter, that modeling blonde wigs can make for a fun Friday night and I have absolutely no reason to complain because, as she said, “it could always be worse.”

We rallied a community of teams across the country to play for her. She inspired strangers to donate their time and money for a cause.

Colie was a constant reminder for each of us of that little girl who fell in love with a game and never looked back. She defined strength and courage. She represents everything we want our daughters to grow up to be one day.

She fought with tenacity and joy for another year with stem-cell treatments and clinical trials, but the tumors continued to spread.

“It’s not the struggles that define you, it's how you respond to the struggles that define your character, worth, determination and strength,” she said. “So find joy in the journey and be true to yourself.”

I’m going to do that, for her.

Colie felt she was meant for this journey.

Her hometown, Ewing, New Jersey, bears the same name as her cancer.

Her jersey number was always 22. The most common mutation for Ewing Sarcoma is found on chromosome 22. And she was 22 when she died.

The call came on November 5, 2016.

The feeling in that moment isn’t something you can understand until you’re in it.

And you learn a lot about who you are in moments like that.

I broke down in the middle of a field at a Saturday morning football tailgate in State College, Pennsylvania. My best friends from high school comforted me in a way I’ll never be able to explain or thank them for enough.

Then it was my turn to comfort. I made about a dozen phone calls to my former teammates giving them the news.

That day, I realized Colie brought strength out in me that I didn’t know I had. 

With each conversation, I tried to find the right words to ease the pain for both of us.

The two days at her funeral were the hardest of my life.

Some of my teammates fell into my arms at her wake. We stood on the cracked brick sidewalk for what felt an eternity searching for comfort in each other’s embrace and the strength to walk inside.

I saw her for the last time that night. She looked beautiful. I knelt down at her side and held her hand. I think I just wanted her to know I was there. 

I said goodbye, but she has never left.

She was with me in the heart-shaped rock I clutched throughout the service the next morning.

She was with me at the church in the warm sunshine that came through the stained-glass windows as she was carried out in her casket.

I will choose to live like her.

Because of her, I will never back down from a challenge, but go after it wholeheartedly. I will truly live my passion and appreciate every opportunity I have to pursue it because I know it could be taken away at any moment. I will find joy in the journey, whatever that journey may be and wherever it may take me.

On my wrist is a tattooed reminder—written beneath the coordinates of the field where we met and spent the toughest, yet most fulfilling years of our lives.

As my teammates and I stood around Colie's grave that brisk November day, we were each handed a poem called God’s Garden.

It speaks about how He always takes the best flowers from Earth to plant up in Heaven.

A dragon fruit flower is this large beautiful white flower with a brilliant yellow core.

It always blooms in the dark of night. It only blooms once. And it lasts just a day.

It’s a spectacle that avid gardeners hope to experience.

I did.

Kate will be sharing her story on June 8 as part of the Cincy Storytellers Project. Find tickets here.

Keren Rivas,
Staff
6/6/2017 9:10 AM