I hesitated to do this article for a number of reasons. First, I could never do justice to the the fantastically written article that the following paragraphs are based on. The article is entitled “The Courage of Jill Costello” and was written by Chris Ballard. It appeared in the November 29, 2010 issue of Sports Illustrated. Second, I know my writing cannot do justice to the courage and leadership that Jill Costello exhibited during her lifetime. Third, I really hesitated to compare Jill Costello to the behavior of our political class in the same article, the chasm of leadership and courage between the two is unbelievably wide.
However, I decided to go ahead anyway, with apologies up front, if I do not capture the fine writing of Chris Ballard or the courage and leadership impact of Jill Costello.
Jill Costello was a 21 year old junior and a coxswain on the crew team at the University of California when she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer, the most advanced form, even though she had never smoked a cigarette in her life. The survival rate is about 15% for this type of cancer. The article describes the fight that Jill put up against the cancer:
– She put up with 14 rounds of chemo treatments.
– She put up with radiation treatments.
– She put up with aches and extreme fatigue
– She put up with night sweats, skin sensitivity, puffy cheeks, liquid retention, her abdomen swelled, and her ankles and feet swelled up so much that she could not wear shoes.
– She was weak and susceptible to the smallest illnesses such as a common cold that could lead to pneumonia in her weakened condition.
– She took an untold number of pills.
– She self injected herself with anticoagulant that always resulted in an instant new bruise.
– After many chemo sessions she was so weak that she could barely stand on her own.
– She continued her studies at Cal, attaining a 4.0 in her final semester despite having to use a powered cart to get to classes.
– She graduated with her class at Cal.
– She never stopped dreaming of getting back to the Cal crew team as the coxswain in one of their boats.
What impact did Jill have on other people while she was undergoing debilitating treatment:
– She organized a charity run which attracted 5,000 people and raised more than $320,000.
– She spoke at Genentech, a cancer research firm.
– She exchanged emails with a half a dozen cancer patients around the world.
– She was interviewed on NPR as a spokesperson for those lung cancer patients who never smoked.
– When returning from treatments, Jill and her family found mounds of food deposited on their doorstep from friends.
– Her teammates, who had all scattered and left school for the summer when she was diagnosed, remotely put together two videos which they send to her to lift her spirits.
– At the beginning of the spring season, her teammates went out for a two mile run and when they returned they had taken off their sweatshirts to reveal tee shirts that read “Cal Crew Cancer Killers.”
– While she was in France looking for a treatment and cure, her teammates shed their traditional Cal uniforms for their race with their most heated opponent, Stanford, and wore special uniforms in Jill’s favorite color with the Cal bear logo replaced with a silhouette of Jill. Where the word “Cal” typically was on their uniforms, “Jill” had replaced it. Needles to say, Stanford never had a chance.
Now back to her dream of returning to a Cal boat. On May 16, Jill got into the Cal varsity eight boat, and despite a bloody nose that developed in the middle of the race, led the Cal women’s crew team to a victory over Stanford which allowed Cal to become the 2010 Pac-10 champions. On May 19, Jill found out that there would be no cure for her condition, the treatments had not stopped the growth of the tumors in her lungs, bones, and liver.
Despite the bad medical news, she spent the next week or so like a regular coxswain would have and went about the duties of any coxswain. And despite her condition, Jill got into the Cal varsity eight boat and led her team to a second place finish in the nationals. Less than a month later, Jill Costello passed away.
What an incredible story. Jill Costello’s courage and leadership is probably unparalleled in any story I have ever heard. She was focused on having a positive impact on the world and her teammates, despite constant and excruciating pain. As a leader, she made others around her better in what they did and who they were. She made courageous decisions to train and race and support her teammates despite chronic pain and fatigue, pain and fatigue that most others would have succumbed to and taken the easy way out. She was a leader in so many ways, focused on positively impacting those immediately around her and many, many more that she probably never met. Unbelievable.
Now, not to diminish this outstanding young lady’s fortitude and positive attitude, when was the last time any of Jill Costello’s adjectives were used to describe our political class:
– Courage – rarely, if ever, do you find a courageous politician. They will hide behind the spin doctors and campaign managers lest they dare to take a stand that might irritate a voting block. Always best to take the easy way out to avoid the pain and fatigue a courageous decision might entail
– Leadership – rarely, if ever, do you see a politician stand up and tell the country the hard truth about what is reality and then lead the country to face that hard reality. Better not to endanger their re-election chances, the good of the country be damned.
– Focus – when has our political class ever focused on anything? The 40 year old war on drugs is still a losing battle, the 30 year search for a coherent energy policy is still lost in the woods, we still having a failing public school system, our borders are a joke when it comes to illegal immigration, and a whole slew of problems never get fixed. No focus, no solutions.
– Make Those Around You Better – politicians have called segments of Americans some ugly names over the past two years including racists, un-American, Neanderthals, members of the Klan, “the enemy” and other denigrating names. If we had any Jill Costellos in our political ranks, they would not allow this behavior to occur. A leader would make all of us better people and citizens, like Jill did to those around her and around the world. Our politicians would rather run down others for their own cheap political gain.
As we sit here today, our politicians are arguing over how to tax rich Americans, a decision that will have minimal impact on a $13 TRILLION national debt. They denied a bid to relieve all of America’s small business owners the burden of filing massive and useless paper work associated with the health care reform legislation, not because it was a bad idea, but because they did not have the courage to find and cut $18 billion from a $3.5 TRILLION budget, a.5% cut. Thus, their lack of courage will burden millions of American small businesses for no reason. They are bickering about how to cut the out of control deficit spending since none of them wants to be a true leader and accept the political hits that might occur despite what might be best for the country. No courage, no leadership, no focus.
I wish I knew Jill Costello, Chris Ballard writes about an outstanding young woman. I also wish our politicians knew her, knew her fortitude, knew her focus, knew her compassion, knew her courage, and knew her leadership. I also wish they would start acting in her spirit for the good of the country, even if it is painful and fatiguing and has downsides to their own personal political careers.