By Michael Coyne - BIGEAST.org
It's a story about family. Both of the Wettig Family and the University of Cincinnati Family. How intertwined they are and how strong they are. This is not a story about athletics, though that is the tie that binds it all together. It's a story of strength and heart off the field, not on it.
Katelyn Wettig is a graduating senior on the Cincinnati women's lacrosse team. She majors in communications with a minor in marketing with a public relations certificate. A standout defender, she played in the team's first eight games this year, starting all of them. Wettig anchored the defense for a team which began 4-0 at home, its best start in the six-year history of the program. All this while her mother, Janet, battled breast cancer. For the second time.
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|Katelyn Wettig ||Gina Oliver |
First diagnosed during Katelyn's sophomore year of college in November 2010, Janet received treatment that shuttered the cancer into remission. She was rediagnosed in February of 2013, this time with a much more aggressive form.
The team had a visible sign of their commitment in raising breast cancer awareness by taking part in the American Cancer Society of Greater Cincinnati Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk in October of 2012.
The lacrosse team helped raise almost $1,000 through a bake sale, conducting a "teach some LAX lessons" for those who donated $1 toward the fight against breast cancer, as well as getting donations. They made shirts for the event and those who have been affected by breast cancer and honored loved ones by putting their names on the back of their shirts.
That supportive culture has extended throughout the team and the entire athletic department.
""We talk to our kids every day about family, the family we're creating and the culture we're creating at UC," said head coach Gina Oliver.
"Most of the time there are more important things in life," Oliver continued. "As much as we talk about wanting to win, competing and lacrosse being our priority, we live our lives with the competitive and passionate mentality and do that in all aspects of life."
"The coaches that I've had the past couple years," said Katelyn. "(Former head coach) Lellie Swords and (current bench boss) Gina Oliver have both been really supportive throughout the whole thing. The team has been behind me and all the parents. We've had other (parents) who were breast cancer survivors on the team, they got in contact with my family and have always been there for my mom."
Once Janet was rediagnosed in 2013, there became another opportunity for the Family to respond.
|"Being at Cincinnati has really has helped me develop as a person." |
- Katelyn Wettig
Oliver commented, "It took the drill sergeant, competitive atmosphere down a level and took it into the reasons why we play the game, and little things being more important and playing FOR someone rather than just going out there any playing."
The team broke out pink jersey's on March 30 in a 16-6 win over Detroit. It was the team's first game at the new $15 million dollar Sheakley Athletics Center. It also was the first game of the year Katelyn missed as her mom took a turn for the worse. Katelyn headed home to Maryland and the support of many has helped Katelyn handle it all.
"Even the freshmen who didn't know anything about the background of my mom and coach Oliver, who wasn't here the first time, all have really become a part of our family and really supported us throughout the whole process," said Katelyn.
In the coming weeks the cancer hit Janet hard and was more destructive than before. She passed away on Sunday, April 14.
The funeral was held in the Wettig's hometown of Street, Maryland, on Saturday, April 20. The team was scheduled to play a conference game at Louisville on that date, but was able to push it to Sunday. So a 20-hour round-trip bus ride from campus to the small town of Street, Md., was in order, because that is what you do to support your family.
"It was such a great experience and it was awesome to have them all there," said Katelyn. "It was really great to see them supporting me and my family. Then they hopped right on the bus and came home, and had a game on Sunday. So they sacrificed having a pregame practice just to be there for me, and my family. It was an awesome experience. There were so many people that showed up at my mom's service and it was really touching that they could be there too."
Katelyn cited numerous teammates; including Katie Kiriazoglou and Marissa Pierson, as having been extremely compassionate throughout the ordeal.
There also was the significant role Louisville and head coach Kellie Young played in the weekend.
Pointed out by Oliver, "Louisville was more than amazing with helping us honor that family."
In addition, Cincinnati senior associate AD Brendan Fouracre furthered the point, "We are grateful for the sportsmanship, sympathy and understanding extended to us by Louisville."
Fouracre continued, "It all starts with the student-athlete experience. We are committed to supporting the whole person, emotionally, intellectually and physically reach her highest potential on the field, in the classroom and in life. We are proud of how our ladies have responded to this challenge under the leadership of Coach Oliver."
Oliver circled back to reinforce how this is another example of what being at Cincinnati is all about. "As an athletic department, the administration is doing more than just for us as a program. For Katelyn and her family as well, it goes beyond their job as athletic directors and program administrators. It goes beyond that, it speaks more to the culture of this athletic department and what they're trying to be for the student-athletes at this university. It goes beyond just the university, it's more personal."
As Katelyn returns to the field and prepares for her final two games of the year, in the midst of graduation weekend, she will be surrounded by Family.
"This has helped our team try to rebuild the culture that we're trying to create for the years to come," said Katelyn, always making the team her No. 1 priority. "This was positive, I guess, in some ways, on the rest of the team."
|"Most of the time there are more important things in life. As much as we talk about wanting to win and that being our priority and lacrosse being our priority, we live our lives with the mentality of the things we preach every day, and doing that in all aspects of life." |
- Gina Oliver
Drawing from defensive-minded cornerback and her favorite NFL-star, ex-Ravens safety Ed Reed, Katelyn will bring the emotional and physical spirit to her Commencement on Saturday, April 27 and Senior Day on Sunday, April 28.
She will be surrounded by her father (Mark) and brother (Jason), as well as a host of extended family members. Her aunt and uncle, cousin and her husband, her best friend from home (Julia Heaps) and Julia's parents (Margaret and Richard Heaps).
Margaret and Janet were very close for the past 30 years, talking on the phone, always in each other's presence and always doing things together.
"I consider her my second mom," Katelyn said of Margaret.
So as Katelyn turns the page toward an uncertain future, filled with a job search and life after college, she has a tremendous foundation to build from. Her Family will always be there.
Katelyn commented, "Being at Cincinnati has really has helped me develop as a person. I've learned a lot, through my whole lacrosse career. Going through changes of coaching, changes of my life, (lacrosse) has been a really great escape for me. I know I'm definitely going to miss it in these years to come, because everything is coming to an end, abruptly changing in my life, but I look forward to the future."
A woman surrounded by Family, wise beyond her years.