Where does my strength come from? I am asked that quite often.
My strength comes from being a wife, mother and a professional at a very young age. At 25, I was married, had two sons under the age of two and was a basketball coach at a Division I college. Somehow I found time to take classes in the evenings and earn my Master’s degree in school psychology.
There was little time in the day for any type of doubt or insecurities. I had to be on top of my game 24/7 for my husband, my sons, my players and myself. I had to be prepared to be the best for everyone that surrounded me. That “can do” spirit is a part of my DNA. My college coach taught me to never let your opponents see your weaknesses. I had to be a pillar of strength. I had no choice. So many people counted on me to be at my best.
So I had no problem traveling to seven states in eight days if it meant being the best mom and wife I could be. I was a road warrior. It started on a frigid Friday in February, I drove two hours to Boston to meet my now husband, Eddie Benton who was the top assistant for the Brown women’s team. The next day his team would play Havard and although his team was struggling this season, I wanted to be there to support him. Hours before the game I found out that the head coach had a personal issue to tend to and had to go back home. My husband was handed the reigns and was going to lead the team in her absence.
I never travelled to away games and it just so happened that the one I picked turned out to be his head coaching debut. I was so happy to be in the stands on that day. Eddie coached a great game and the team put up a good fight against one of the top teams in the Ivy League Conference. Although Brown didn’t win, I was proud of him and the team’s efforts. After I had a chance to see him for a minute after the game, I jumped back in my car and headed back to RI to prepare for my next travel adventure.
Less than 24 hours later, I was back on the road, headed to New York. My youngest son, Martin, had a scheduled procedure to remove screws from his knee. He re-tore his ACL a few weeks prior and this was the first step in preparing for the reconstruction surgery.
I spent Sunday night at my second home in Queens and on Monday, Martin and I arrived at the hospital at 10 am for what I thought would be a simple and quick procedure. As my youngest limped in the doctor’s office for his pre-op procedure I wanted to break down and cry. This was his second ACL tear on the same knee in less than a year. He couldn’t catch a break. I couldn’t help but think if there was anything I could have done differently to not allow this to happen. Did he return to the basketball court too soon? Did he rehab enough? Had he felt pressure to return to the court? All these thoughts ran through my mind but my inner strength kept all those doubts at bay. I had to be strong as he turned around to say goodbye as I sat in the waiting room. I held back the tears.
Six hours later I was allowed to go into the recovery room to see him. Again, I had to be strong. I knew Martin needed to know that everything was going to be alright. The surgery went well and all that was needed was some TLC. I took Martin to Queens where he would spend a few days recovering. I stopped at a CVS and got all his meds, some snacks and lots of beverages. I made sure he was comfortable and settled because I knew the next day I would have to travel. Martin is a strong kid and is a lot like me. He is smart, funny, confident and outgoing. He has a great perspective on so many things. I knew his issue was more to recover physically than mentally.
The next day after I made sure Martin was ok before I got back in the car. This time I was heading to Philadelphia to take care of yet another patient, Terance. This one wasn’t physical. This was mental. Terance was feeling down about not getting much playing time. I hadn’t seen Terance since after New Year’s so I was eager to show support in person. I wanted him to know his momma was there for him. I could tell in his voice that he was excited to see me. It felt good. Although Terance only played in the last two minutes of the Clippers’ game, I was looking forward to seeing him at the end of the game. I couldn’t wait for the game to end and neither could he.
Our embrace was long and he melted in my arms. He knew at that moment that he had love and support and that all he needed to continue. We talked for 30 minutes about everything from basketball to his personal relationships. That night his team had to travel to their next road game. We were used to having little time to debrief. Every second was worth it.
The next day, Wednesday, I once again got back in my car and drove back to NY to take care of Martin. He was in great spirits and that made me feel better. I let him stay one more night with me in Queens and the next morning I drove him back to Pace University. I got him all settled in his dorm room, gave him his meds and snacks and headed to Rhode Island. Martin Mann was going to be just fine. His infectious smile told me so.
When I got home, on Thursday, I quickly unpacked and repacked, changed into my Clippers gear and headed back to Boston but this time to see the Clippers play the Celtics. I was home in Rhode Island for less than one hour.
Again, I was presented with another opportunity to spend time with Terance as the Clippers were in Boston to play the Celtics. I had another chance to see Terance and encourage him to stay the course. For many years, Boston was our home. The TD Garden was a place my sons and I frequented when they were young and I was coaching at Northeastern.
We watched lots of NBA games together. It was surreal that Terance would have the opportunity to step on that court as an NBA player after being in the stands of the Garden as a kid dreaming of that opportunity. We would sit up in the highest section of the Garden. The tickets were free and I liked the aerial view of the court. I would watch and learn from Doc Rivers. I studied his every move and would diagram his plays. Terance would sit right next to me and I could tell he, too, was absorbing every minute of the action. Martin, on the other hand, was more concerned with running around and asking me for money for the concession stand. We were given special passes and at the end of the games we would be allowed to go in the back and meet the players and their families.
On one occasion, Terance and Martin had a chance to meet and speak with Ray Allen. I watched Terance as he hung on every word Ray spoke. I am sure that conversation left a lasting impression on Terance and was an added foundation to his work ethic.
This time, my red and blue Clippers shirt stood out in a sea of green shirts, sweatshirts and hats that comprised the rowdy crowd that packed the TD Garden. A crowd I once cheered along with and was a part of…now was one of just a handful of people in the sold out Garden cheering against the Celtics.
That night Terance only played for 14 seconds. Those seconds felt like a lifetime. Both he and I soaked up every second of that experience. We were probably the only two in the arena who knew how special that moment was.
The next day, Friday, I drove back to Rhode Island just in time to catch Eddie’s basketball game at Brown. I could barely keep my eyes open and was extremely exhausted. Despite how I felt, I knew my husband and sons were all in a great place and my presence, love and care had a lot to do with it. It was a week filled with more time in the car than anywhere else, driving hundreds of miles listening to my favorite playlist, going over in my head the highs and lows of competition and at each stop, providing lots of TLC.