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 In Blog, Monday Morning

like live line miracle seasonAn Iowa Community Reminds Us to ‘Live Like Line’

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy

A simple song played in my mind all summer as a 14-year-old.

While shooting hoops in our backyard, soaring into the air (3 inches above the ground) and hitting the game winning jumper in some imagined game 7, a skinny, short, white kid, with no fingers and no game dreamed of being like Michael Jordan. Afterwards, I’d victoriously strut into the house, grab a refreshing Gatorade, wipe my sweaty forehead, and hear the words echo in my head: Like Mike. I want to be like Mike.

Perhaps the dream of hitting the game winning shot is no longer part of my future plans, but the idea of emulating someone bigger, better than me remains. But who that person is, and why they actually matter, has changed. Let me explain.

In 2010, the Iowa City West High School volleyball team enjoyed a most remarkable season. This team, coached by the indomitable Kathy Bresnahan and lead by their captain, Caroline Found, claimed their first ever state championship.

Shortly after the victory, their star player, Caroline (who preferred her nickname “Line”) learned her mother was diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer. Line, always upbeat and optimistic, brought her team together and made them promise that no matter what got in their way, they would practice, work, play and strive to win state title for her mother. The team agreed.

Coach Kathy Bresnahan and Team Face Unexpected Tragedy

As Line’s mother grew weaker, and just weeks before the start of their 2011 season, Coach Bresnahan received the painful call she’d been expecting.

A panicked, weeping player shouted into the phone that Line had just died. Coach Bresnahan tried to calm the player down. The coach reminded her that they knew this was possible, they’d been preparing for this, they were going to work together through this.

But the player screamed back, “No. Not Mrs. Found. It’s Line. Line was in a moped accident tonight. She’s dead!”

My friends, how should we respond when unexpected tragedy arrives? How do we move forward when perhaps the one we most need to lead us forward is no longer with us?

It wasn’t just the team that experienced this profound loss or had to determine how to move forward. The entire Iowa City West High School community mourned the loss of a friend.

The lively girl who liked to dance into school every morning and into the classroom every period wasn’t coming back. The one who sprinted down the hallway to hug a friend, fellow students, teachers, and even her principal after not seeing them for a very long time (like yesterday!) was no longer there.

In a beautifully illuminating story of Line’s vibrancy and love of others, Coach Kathy Bresnahan (who I interviewed on our most recent Live Inspired podcast…an amazing story…don’t miss it…listen here) shared how one of her students, who suffered from panic attacks brought on by large crowds, chose to eat alone in her classroom instead of in the cafeteria with 1,000+ students.

That is until Line asked if she could join the student for lunch in the quiet classroom. They spent many lunches over the course of a few weeks together, building a sincere friendship. One day, Line asked if he might now be comfortable joining her and her friends in the cafeteria for lunch. He joined her that day and was able to keep his anxiety at bay. And he enjoyed eating in the cafeteria through the rest of his time at West High School. What a remarkable gift.

He was not the only one to receive such a gift from Line.

At her memorial, not only did thousands from around the community attend, but numerous busses arrived from around the state of Iowa. Teams of volleyball players traveled hours to pay their respect to not only one of the fiercest competitors they ever played against, but one of the most remarkable girls they’d ever met.

You see, in addition to winning on the court, one of Line’s goals was to cut down the net between her team and the opponent. She viewed every match as an opportunity to create new friendships, new connections, new joy.

Line’s Legacy Inspires ‘The Miracle Season’

The volleyball season commenced.

While the captain, the leader, the heart and the soul of the team that won state the year before was not physically on the floor, her team committed to playing and enjoying the game of volleyball and life with the same vivacity and fervor as their friend, Line.

Although she wasn’t on the court, her high-top shoes were placed below her empty chair on the bench.

And though she wasn’t in the gym, her dad attended every game and cheered the team his daughter and wife so loved.

Surrounding dad, the stands were packed for every game with students’ arms linked tightly with one another in solidarity. Each student wore a tee shirt with a simple motto that brought together a team and the entire school that season: Live Like Line. [Tweet this.] | [Share on Facebook.]

And after every victory (and there were many), the team raced over to the stands, joined arms- and then voices- with the crowd, and they belted out a song to honor their fallen friend: Sweet Caroline.

This team, this community, against overwhelming odds, came together to play, cheer, mourn, fight, and eventually claim their second state title.

So, who do you want to be like?

In the past I wanted to dribble down the court, hit the fade away jumper, slam sports drinks and be like Mike.

Now I want to be – and live – bigger than that. A different song echoes in my heart: Like Line. I want to be like Line.

This is your day. Live Inspired.

So…who do you want to be like? Post your answers in the comments below. For every comment, I’ll be donating $5 to the Live Like Line Foundation. Post your comments, share with your friends, and together we can Live Like Line and make a difference.

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Showing 17 comments
  • Judy S.
    Reply

    I want to be like Ruby Martin. She is a teacher I had the privilege to teach with many years ago. Ruby never met a person she didn’t like. She had many challenges in her life, but you would never know it if you met her, because she always had a smile on her face! She loved her students and they loved her. She greeted everyone with great joy and kept us smiling and laughing. She managed to keep a positive attitude no matter what.

    • John O'Leary
      Reply

      Judy – thank you so much for sharing about Ruby and for letting her be your example for a live lived inspired. Stay ON FIRE, the best is yet to come! J

  • Danielle
    Reply

    I just love the way you tell someone’s story. It’s like reading a book that transports you into that particular realm.
    I would love to be more like my mother. She was such a kind woman. Wife to one man, Mother to 11 kids, friends to so so many. She gave her time when it was needed/wanted. She had a very giving heart (I guess she had a lot of practice with the 11 of us always demanding something of her) Advisor to whomever was smart enough to seek her guidance. She was quiet grace and strength.. I miss her so much and although I do try to be more like her, I do not have her grace or strength of character, yet. But I will always strive to have more of the traits of hers that I respected and incorporate them into who I am; that way I can still be me, just better.

    • John O'Leary
      Reply

      What a beautiful share, honoring your mother with your words and your life. Thanks for it and for ALL you do, Danielle. Today is your day. Live inspired. j

  • Ann Helmsing Wittman
    Reply

    John, my husband Frank and I are faithful followers of yours. We love all your podcasts. We especially love this one. I want to live like Maggie Chismarich. She is my 18 year old neighbor who was the captain of the Dazzlers Dance squad at Marquette High School for this past 2018 school year. The Dazzlers are a group of special needs high schoolers teamed up with dancers from the schools Varsity and Junior Varsity Dance team. The goal of this first year of the program was to integrate the special needs students with the general education students and it was a huge success. The group practiced once a week together and built beautiful friendships and when they performed at school events got standing ovations. I saw Maggie and a couple of her friends today with some of their special needs friends at the pool. I was gravitated to hang with them in the pool. Maggie introduced me and my kids to them. There was so much love and kindness in that group it brought me to tears. I later sat next to them while they were eating lunch. Maggie was laughing and having fun with the Dazzlers while helping one of them who was having difficulty eating an orange. It was the most kind, simple and beautiful human interaction I’ve ever seen. Maggie has told me several times throughout the year that her work with the Dazzlers has been the best part of her high school year. Maggie is a beautiful, honors student who is going to Mizzou in the Fall. Thank you John for sharing all your messages of gratitude with us. Our lives are changing because of your weekly messages.

    • John O'Leary
      Reply

      This is beautiful, Ann. What an awesome example for us all to hear, love hearing the success and impact the program has had on the participants and the community. Thanks for sharing and for ALL you do! J

  • Coach Kathy Bresnahan
    Reply

    John I strive each day to Live Like Line….emulating her passion for life and searching as to how I can make a difference in the life of one other person. In addition, I want to be more like John O’Leary and find the strength, courage, and the perseverance to fight through life’s road blocks. Love

    • John O'Leary
      Reply

      Coach Kathy — thanks for sharing your story with the Live Inspired Community. Our lives are forever changed after having you on the Podcast sharing your story and Line’s. Thank you for ALL you do, my friend. It matters profoundly. J

  • Bruce Parnell
    Reply

    Thank you for this story John! This is the kind of stories that I used to love to read from you a couple years ago, then it seemed like your focus changed to something else. Its good to read a story about family and life again! Please start back writing like this again. I miss hearing the stories about your family and friends.

    • John O'Leary
      Reply

      Hi Bruce, thanks for your feedback and for being part of the Live Inspired Community. I’m not sure I know exactly what you mean as this is pretty typical of my Monday Motivation blogs – but I am happy to hear it resonated with you. Keep giving feedback so I know what is inspiring you. J

  • Steve Awtrey
    Reply

    Wow! Needed tissues as I read this blog! Thanks John for enriching our lives with your inspiring blogs each week! Who do I want to be like? There is a man, a minister, who I met when I left home at age 16. He was kind, sincere, and was like a child in a candy store when it came to knowing more about Jesus. He died three months ago and I had the priviledge of driving to Arkansas to attend his memorial service. I got to visit with him three months before he died. He still had the excitement and wonder about Jesus. That excitement and wonder came out in all aspects of his life. It had an impact on me at 16 and still does today. Sincere, kind, humble that is what I strive for.

    • Kathy Bresnahan
      Reply

      Steve I’m so glad you got to visit with him before he died….we need to remember to tell our hero’s how much we love them while we can. Each day s a blessing.

    • John O'Leary
      Reply

      Steve, thanks so much for sharing and for reminding us to keep in touch with our mentors… what a blessing this minister was in your life. Sincere, kind, humble. Beautiful attributes to keep striving for. Stay ON FIRE, brother! J

  • Paula
    Reply

    Each podcast and comment adds to a whole. I most want to be what I was put here for. I believe the takeaways from each guest and blog that resonate helps me to achieve that. I remain intrigued as to what that ultimately is.

    • John O'Leary
      Reply

      Thanks for sharing, Paula! Life is the journey – glad to hear you are embracing it and growing on the path. Enjoy and stay ON FIRE. The best is yet to come — J

  • Liz Call
    Reply

    Life changer! This post, John, AND, her life! YOU are beautiful too, John, for thinking of this idea to give back!

    • John
      Reply

      Thanks, Liz! But you MUST tell me — who do you want to be like?? Can’t wait to hear. J

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