Geneva, PAC helping to “Wynn the battle”

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Lori Wynn returned to the Geneva bench for three games before heading back to North Carolina for what she hopes is her final round of chemotherapy.
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Lori Wynn has watched countless hours of video, spent an abundance of hours strategizing, and logged many mornings, afternoons, and nights in gyms in her six years as head coach of the Geneva College women's basketball team.

In the past year, though, she met an adversary she hadn't faced in her 18 years overall as a head basketball coach – cancer.

Wynn was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June. Shortly after, she decided to live with her parents in North Carolina and seek cancer treatment at a hospital near her parents' home. Despite the distance, she remained connected to the Geneva program. She returned to Pennsylvania in October to run two weeks of preseason practice. Then, she turned over day-to-day control of the team to assistant coaches Patience Baker and Kendall Hunter.

Wynn's goal was to come back and coach in a game this season. Because, if she could do that, it meant she'd be on the path to recovery.

She achieved it Jan. 28 when she was on the home bench at Metheny Fieldhouse in Beaver Falls for Geneva's 70-51 loss to St. Vincent.

"It's definitely great to be back with the team again. It's great to be in the gym, being around the players and just being around here," Wynn said. "It gives me a sense of normalcy and routine kind of being back in the swing of things."

While Baker continued to run the team,Wynn couldn't help but shout encouragement and instruction to Geneva's players from the bench.

"Coaching definitely kicked back in pretty quick. I was in one practice and then went to that game and it was a quick transition to get back into coaching mode. It's like riding a bike. It comes back to you," Wynn said.

Geneva's players were thrilled to have their coach back on the bench.

"It was really fantastic. My hope was a little cautious on her coming back. It was possible her timetable might be a little off with her thinking she could do things sooner than she could. When she told us she'd be back for the Jan. 28 game, I was so excited, but cautious. It just felt really good to have her back," Geneva senior Rachel Larson said. "Fans or people that don't really know her kept asking me if there was a big difference in her. All of us kind of laughed. She did not skip a beat. Her energy is a little bit less than normal, but she is still her fiery old self. She was definitely yelling and calling out encouragement. It didn't feel different at all, which is really nice. I was wondering what she would be like. She was herself."

Wynn stayed with the team for three games (Jan. 28, Feb. 1 and Feb. 4) and returned to North Carolina for her scheduled final chemotherapy treatment. She plans on coming back to Geneva later in the month for Senior Night.

"Even from the time I was diagnosed, the big question was always when could I get back to school and coaching? I came back in October and ran the first two weeks of practice. When I left, I wasn't quite sure if I'd be back during the season or not. It's really good to be back," Wynn said. "At this point, the doctors call it no evidence of disease. Hopefully, this will be my last round and then I will have a follow-up test and then can come back on a full-time basis."

Even though she can't be there physically all the time, Wynn stays connected to her assistants and players via phone, text, and video conferencing. She watches plenty of video and helps with practice and game preparation.

"With technology these days, it's been pretty great," Wynn said. "I've been able to FaceTime with them as a group and I've been able to connect with individual players via text or FaceTime. Technology really helps that."

The frequent communication and involvement has helped Wynn stay driven.

"When you have a goal to focus on and something to come back to, it really helps," she said. "Just knowing our team and the kind of kids we have in our program is really a huge positive."

The Presidents' Athletic Conference rallied around Wynn, too. The PAC embraced Geneva's
#WynnTheBattle initiative, which started with bracelets and expanded to T-shirts. The conference's 10 member schools hosted #WynnTheBattle events at their games during the week Wynn was back on the bench. All donations and proceeds from T-shirt sales, bake sales, gift basket auctions, and 50-50 raffles at the various games benefited the Beaver County Cancer & Heart Association.

"It was great to see. It all started with us talking about having a mantra throughout the season and being inspired by her battle. It just grew from there. We just had so many people asking us if they could have some bracelets, too," Larson said. "We were able to raise some money, which was nice. The conference was willing to participate, doing fundraisers at their own games. I feel really touched by the PAC and the teams' willingness to support our team by participating.

"All the support has been huge. Her diagnosis was hard. Her treatment was hard. Her surgery was really difficult. But, she knows she also has a lot of things going for her, like her faith in the Lord," Larson said. "She is a strong person physically and in character. She sets her mind to something and she'll work really hard to get there. All her friends, former players and coaches across the country are behind her, too. When you have people going to battle with you, it makes a huge impact."

Wynn has been overwhelmed by the support.

"It's pretty incredible and I am incredibly grateful for it. Honestly, it's pretty humbling so many people are supporting, praying for, and encouraging me. The team, campus, and community have been great," she said. "The conference has been amazing. For them to all jump on board, it's pretty special for me. I am so appreciative of the conference coaches kind of banding together and supporting me and my team. I think it says a lot about the coaches in our conference that they are willing to do something that'll take some extra time in the middle of a competitive and already busy season. I am incredibly grateful they've done that."

Wynn truly believes all the positive energy has helped her during her battle.

"As athletes and coaches, we're pretty competitive and we understand what it means to have to fight a little bit. That kind of mentality definitely helps. Honestly, for me, too, it was really the amount of people who are praying for me and encouraging me," she said. "When you know you have so many people thinking about you and praying for you, when you have a rough day, they don't last very long; you can snap out of it pretty quickly. It is really pretty special to me to have so many great people in my life."

Joe Sager

Joe Sager is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. He has written about sports since 1996 for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. He first covered D-III football in 2000 with the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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