Ohio Valley Opens Its Heart to Volleyball Tragedy
LISBON — I have said repeatedly the Ohio Valley is a special place to live for when tragedy strikes the local response is swift and powerful.
Tragedy befell an OVAC volleyball team this summer. Lauren Thomas, a junior for Beaver Local, suffered a stroke July 14 while attending a volleyball camp with her team at Youngstown State University.
Juniors in high school are not supposed to be stroke victims. Such an occurrence is a sobering experience.
Thomas was taken to a local hospital for emergency surgery and later transferred to Akron’s Children’s Hospital for additional treatment and rehab. She remains hospitalized, making day-to-day progress but work remains.
The Ohio Valley’s caring and compassion was brought to the forefront at a recent benefit at the school. Amazingly, some 2,000 dinners were served in the three-hour event, which included a Chinese auction and a 50/50 raffle. All told, the fundraiser raised almost $25,000, all going to Thomas and her family.
High school dinners in the Ohio Valley are not supposed to raise $25K.
Remarkably, some 17 volleyball teams attended the benefit, some as far away as Wheeling Park, Hubbard and West Branch.
The support for Thomas hasn’t been isolated to the Ohio Valley.
Beaver Local is selling Lauren Strong t-shirts to raise additional money to assist with the mounting medical bills. T-shirts have been purchased from as far away as Texas. One school in the Lone Star State purchased 125 of the shirts for its entire staff.
“The day after Lauren’s stroke, my assistant coach, Amy Hensler, saw a post on Facebook about Lauren. We knew Lauren and her team because they had just played in our summer tournament at Wheeling Park the month before. We couldn’t believe what had happened,” Wheeling Park head coach Kristen Gaudino said. “I reached out to Beaver Local coach Sarah Lowe quickly and asked what we could do to help. My coaching staff and I couldn’t imagine how we would feel if that had happened to one of our athletes and we wanted to help support the team and Lauren’s family as much as we could.
“We ended up sending a check to Lauren’s family and we ordered Lauren Strong t-shirts for our whole team. We also attended the spaghetti dinner at Beaver Local. The dinner was the largest fundraiser I’d ever seen. The support of that tight-knit community was incredible. Our girls were very excited to warm-up in our Lauren Strong t-shirts in our home opener against Magnolia and St Clairsville. St. Clairsville’s coach, Christa Truchan, agreed to have her girls warm-up in the shirts also, so we took a group photo to send to Lauren. I am inspired by this Lauren Strong movement. The community at Beaver Local is amazing. In fact, the Ohio Valley in general has come together for this cause. I think the coaches in the Ohio Valley who are urging their teams to show support for Lauren are showing their athletes how to be kind and compassionate. We will continue to pray for Lauren and support her, her family and her team.”
Eric Lowe is the Beaver Local School District superintendent of schools. So Lauren’s plight is one that resonates passionately with him.
“The response has been overwhelming. In today’s world that is very refreshing,” Lowe said. “Lauren is a great kid….a 4.0 student, always upbeat and easy going. She is still hospitalized since it has only been basically a month-and-a half.
“Lauren is speaking and has movement. She is making continued progress. Lauren has come to inspire other people as they see how hard she is working. She is leading other people.”
Lauren is being raised by her aunt and uncle. More fundraisers are in the works, including the ongoing sale of bracelets at the school.
“The people reaching out to Lauren is truly amazing. The Stanford University volleyball team has sent her two videos and a care package,” Lowe said. “WVU did the same and the entire Walsh Jesuit volleyball team came to visit her.
“Social media has helped get her story out there. Her story is very inspirational.”
Coach Lowe, meanwhile, is impressed with the scope of support for Lauren as well as the fortitude she is exhibiting in her recovery.
“Lauren, prior to suffering from her stroke while playing at YSU Team Camp, stood out to her teammates, coaches, friends and family as a hard-working individual who always put others first. Her friends even refer to her as the “mom” in the group,” Coach Lowe said. “Since her stroke, Lauren has not only continued to stand out due to her hard work, but her determination to get stronger. Each day she continues to make progress and refuses to settle with where she is at.
“It is her strength and the support of the community together helping Lauren to continue to improve. It is great to see not only our immediate community, but the entire volleyball community from around the US including fans and players from middle schools, high schools, and universities come together to support Lauren. Lauren has always put others first, its amazing how many others are now putting her first.”
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