May 9, 1999, it was a Sunday. I was with my USC Women’s Water Polo teammates in Davis, California. The day before, we had beaten UCLA to make it to the NCAA Championships; Sunday was about to be one of the most memorable days of my life.
Allow me to give you some background, I was born and raised in Washington, and was finishing up my first year at USC. I had spent a year at Whittier College before transferring, I swam and played water polo there, made the Dean’s List, was named an Academic All-American, the Rookie of the Year for water polo and 2nd team All-Conference. It was a successful year by all accounts, but I didn’t feel challenged, I wanted something bigger; hence, the transfer to the University of Southern California.
I remember being at home during winter break from Whittier, my best friend Megan and her boyfriend wanted to set me up with his brother, so I agreed, nervously. We all went out and ended up at Snoqualmie Pass playing in the snow in the middle of the night. I couldn’t be 100% sure, but it seemed like David and I hit it off. I came home after the school year ended and got in touch with David. We talked for hours on the phone about absolutely nothing, well that’s not entirely true, I recall a rather thorough conversation about toaster strudels vs. pop-tarts; it may not have been romantic, but a friendship was quickly forming. Needless to say, we had decided we were going to hang out after he got back from a camping trip that weekend, that was, if he even went; he thought he was coming down with a cough. Monday came around and I didn’t hear from him, I thought, maybe we weren’t as compatible as I thought; it wouldn’t be the first time…..I played the tuba in the High School band, for crying out loud…..the boys weren’t exactly knocking down my door. I got a phone call from Megan the next day, she told me that David had broken his leg during a game of flag football and had to have surgery, but before they could do surgery, they did a chest x-ray, they needed to rule out pneumonia; they were worried about his cough. Needless to say, the x-ray came back negative for pneumonia, but showed spots on David’s lungs.
David was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He had his leg set, a shunt inserted into his brain and began chemotherapy treatments right away. I went to the hospital and visited, called regularly and tried to be as good of a friend as I could be given our limited history and the situation. On the 4th of July, David was in a room with the windows blacked out because of the headaches caused by his treatments, he was sad he was going to miss the fireworks. I drew fireworks on a poster board and delivered it to his room; ghetto, I know, but what can you do. David had planned on going to Hawaii Pacific University, he had just graduated high school, and now he was spending his summer in the hospital. He underwent a stem cell transplant, and during his recovery, I sat in his room while we watched Jerry Springer and kept him stocked on ice chips. The transplant was a success, David was released from the hospital and things were looking up.
7:15am; I sat up in bed, the room was dark. My alarm hadn’t gone off, in fact, we didn’t have to be awake until after 9. I looked around the room, shrugged it off, laid back down and drifted back to sleep a few minutes later. That morning was like any other game morning, team breakfast and meeting in the hotel, before we headed to the pool. The atmosphere at the pool was amazing, the crowd was fired up and the nerves were at an all-time high. We were playing Stanford for the National Championship. The game was an all-out battle and at the end of regulation, we were deadlocked. Overtime began and the intensity continued, as we all hung on every shot, every turnover. The details of the game are fuzzy; in the moment, it all became a blur. We were in the 5th overtime, sudden death, my roommate, Christine had the ball and then it happened; she scored from about 7 meters out to end the marathon and give us our first National Championship. We all jumped in the pool and mobbed each other, it’s safe to say, it was the highest, high I have ever felt. There were tears, laughs, hugs and then more tears, laughs and hugs.
After every tournament win, our coach took us to In-n-Out for burgers; it was our tradition. We pulled the vans into the parking lot and everyone headed inside. I decided to give my parents a call to let them know we had won, this was 1999, there was no live streaming, and let’s face it, TV coverage of women’s college water polo wasn’t even close to happening. My Mum picked up the phone, they had been following along on the computer, so they had seen the score update. My Mum’s voice sounded off, she asked me to call when we got back to LA. I asked her what was wrong; she said everything was fine; she would talk to me later. I wasn’t having it; I knew something was wrong, so I asked her again to tell me what it was. That next moment was a blur, again, it was a theme that day; she told me that David was gone. I collapsed against the pay phone and a stranger walking into In-n-Out told my coach that something was wrong. The next thing I knew my Coach had grabbed the phone and was talking to my parents and someone was holding me up, although to this day, I couldn’t tell you who it was. It didn’t make sense, David was fine, he was in remission; people in remission don’t die, this wasn’t how this was supposed to go. We had become close friends, he was going to Hawaii; I had just won a National Championship, we were on top of the world. I got back to my room that night and had a voicemail, it was from Megan, left the Thursday we went to Nationals, David had gone back to the hospital;, she was crying, his kidneys were failing, it didn’t look good. As I soon found out, things had gone downhill quickly from there and four days later, on Sunday, May 9th, surrounded by his family, David died, at 7:15am.