It has now been more than six years since the death of a Seattle soccer star, but Austen Everett is still making a significant impact on the lives of hundreds of kids.
Austen went to Bishop Blanchet High School in North Seattle. She was heavily recruited as a goaltender, and chose to play at the University of California Santa Barbara before she transferred to the University of Miami.
She was making great strides in her athletic career in the early 2000s. But in 2008, back pain brought her to a Miami hospital, where she learned what was causing the pain.
“That’s when they did an MRI and found a mass in her abdomen. When they removed it they removed a mass that was the size of a small football,” Austen’s mother June Leahy said. “By the time they had diagnosed it it was stage 4.”
Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“The hard thing with cancer is that your body is sick, but your brain is still functioning like totally fine,” Austen said at the time. “I couldn’t go out and play like I wanted to, but I could still visualize myself playing like I used to.”
“You gotta retain that hope. You gotta believe that you’re going to pull through, particularly at 25,” Leahy said.
As she battled cancer, Austen’s family, friends, and teammates lifted her up during her darkest days. They made her feel like a valued member of the team, even when she couldn’t play. She fought for 4.5 years. She passed away on August 14, 2012.
“I feel very fortunate that even though I had her for such a short time, that I was blessed to have her as my child,” June said.
When June reflects on her daughter’s life, she doesn’t think about how she died, she thinks about how she lived. Austen wants others to enjoy the journey and that’s why she envisioned her own foundation.
A year before she passed, Austen started the Austen Everett Foundation, a foundation that helps kids with cancer become honorary captains for their favorite sports team.
“She saw this program being with every division one university and every pro team in the nation, which is what we’re striving for,” June said.
June quit her job to focus on this project and, so far, more than 700 sick children are new captains.
“Austen’s vision was right. She wanted these kids to be proud of their bald head,” June said.
“I want people to see that at the same time to see that it can be a blessing and it can be a cool experience,” Austen said before she passed. “And I wouldn’t have had that experience if I didn’t get sick. I want to change the way people look at it a little bit, especially children.”
If you want to learn more or support the Austen Everett Foundation you can find additional details on their website.