Too often in the realm of sport we talk about fortitude, courage, and toughness as if the participants aren't just playing a kids game, as if there's really anything meaningful on the line, as if (win or lose) they aren't going to collect a ludicrous paycheck, hop into an Escalade, and cruise to a plush estate at the end of the day.
True fortitude is composed of something else.
True courage is born when everything is on the line.
True toughness arises amidst years of trial and turmoil.
These things we could attribute all to Stefanie Spielman, who went toe to toe with cancer on five separate occasions, and who passed recently at the age of 42 having battled the disease for well over a decade.
But that's hardly the whole tale.
It began as an All-American love story, when in high school, a young Stefanie Belcher observed a beefy young lad by the name of Chris Spielman at a teen dance. And in the traditions of the best fairy tales and romance stories it was destined to last.
The two dated throughout their time at Ohio State University, where Stefanie majored in journalism and Chris forged one of the more impressive football careers ever realized at the school, receiving All-American honors twice and receiving the Lombardi trophy as the nations best linebacker.
The fairytale seemed unbreakable.
"It was the most solid relationship I've ever seen," said a friend "They were the envy of every married couple on the planet."
The Spielman's were married in 1989 and proceeded to have four children together: Madison, Noah, Macy, and Audrey.
All the while Chris was busy proving the pundits wrong, as he had slid further in the draft than expected, largely because of the criticisms of Mel Kiper who thought he didn't have the speed to play at the NFL level.
He played eight great seasons with the Detroit Lions, leading the team in tackles every year, and garnering four pro-bowl selections, though in 1996 he was lost in free-agency to the Buffalo Bills where he promptly set team and personal reconds with an unbelievable 206 tackles.
Chris was acheiving great things in the NFL, Stefanie was the mother of four beautiful children, and the Spielman's seemed destined for a long and happy life together.
But unfortunately it was not to be.
At the young age of 30, Stephanie discovered a lump in her breast while performing a self-examination which was later determined to be cancer.
She had a masectomy and started her first round of chemotheropy, the start of a journey that would in some ways elevate her out of the shadow of her husband and show a strength of spirit that can only be attributed to a handful of individuals.
Chris, the ever doting husband, cut short his football career to be with his family, and at his wife's insistence he told the media why.
"Tell them I have breast cancer. It may make one guy go home and say: 'Honey, my favorite football player's wife has breast cancer. You got to remember to make that mammogram appointment,' " said Stefanie even as she endured the poison of the chemo, watched her beautiful hair disappear, and miscarried their fifth child.
When her hair was gone, Chris shaved his head too.
And somewhere in the midst of the despair a juggernaut was born.
Somewhere in the midst of the strife a crusader took up her sword.
Somewhere admist the stack of woe, Stefanie became the face of the fight against breast cancer.
She started the Stefanie Spielman fund for Breast Cancer Reasearch immediately after her initial diagnosis stating that, "I know there's a reason God gave me breast cancer, and I'm supposed to do something with it."
In the first six months, she had raised over one million dollars.
But that's hardly where the story ends.
Over the next ten years Stefanie would become a force, raising millions and millions of dollars, givng talks to inspired women all over the nation, even while continuing to battle the malignancy that spread inside her.
She endured the remission and reappearance of the disease on five separate occasions, and with each battle held out the hope that it would be the last.
Years later, and still fighting she professed, "I do not feel sorry for myself. I do not wish this would have happened to anyone else. I pray I grow stronger with each passing day."
"I cannot let this get the best of me, and I will not let this ruin the rest of my life -- no matter how long it is."
And as is so common with the truly courageous she died all too young.
In March, Stefanie's cancer returned forcing her to miss Stefanie's Champions, one of the many events she sponsored to help raise cancer awareness and to channel money into research.
On an unseasonably mild November day, Stefanie passed surrounded by family and friends, while having changed the lives of so many.
But that's hardly where the story ends.
Because when you give of yourself so thoroughly you never truly die. When your efforts on earth produce institutes, and memories, and inspiration for the millions of people battling cancer then your legacy will endure.
Stefanie always talked about "paying it forward" a phrase that personified her belief that while you may never be able to truly repay the kindnesses you've received in this life, you can keep the cycle going with acts of compassion to others.
And like a line of dominoes circled to infinity, the legacy of Stefanie Spielman will continue in perpetual motion, and forever in the hearts and minds of the Detroit Lions faithful she will shine as a beacon.
Our Lioness in repose.
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