In my first year covering Michigan State sports, I have been privileged to cover major events in some of the best venues the nation has to offer.
From the Rose Bowl to Madison Square Garden, the places and the events have provided stories to tell and stories to write. None of those stories, games or moments will stick with me as much as writing about Lacey Holsworth and Adreian Payne.
When I heard word around midnight that the 8-year-old girl might have passed away after her battle with cancer for the past couple years, one memory in particular proved the strongest.
That moment was on senior night at Michigan State as she stood looking up at her "superman" with flowers in her hand before Payne carried her onto the court.
There, near center court, he stood and thanked the crowd for praying for the little girl from St. Johns as she was going through "tough times."
She stood next to him, barely up to his waist, practically glowing. Her face did not indicate anything was wrong, even though her cancer had returned and she was undergoing treatment.
Most people lose their smiles because of the smallest, most insignificant events, but a little girl afflicted with the most feared disease found a way to smile in front of approximately 15,000 fans at Breslin Center – many of whom were wearing shirts dedicated to her.
The smile remained late into the night as she waited outside the locker room for Payne to emerge. When I left with a recorder full of interviews around 1 a.m., she was smiling and taking pictures with other Spartans celebrating the senior day events.
The next morning, as she was working at Buffalo Wild Wings as part of a fundraiser, I wrote about that night and the emotions of it.
That was almost exactly a month ago. In that month, the nation heard her story, a story Michigan State fans already cherished. The story of a relationship that inspires and gives hope – yes, present tense.
To have witnessed such a genuine, real bond in person from my job was a privilege. To see a smile from a little girl who so admired her "big brother" in every way and how sincere his responses were when he was asked about her, and how, sometimes, he couldn't stop talking about her, is not something to which a football game or a basketball game can ever compare.
Looking back on that senior ceremony, it really had no reason to surprise me that Lacey had a smile on her face. Anyone who follows her on Twitter sees the positivity she exudes, even while going through "tough times" that none of us truly witnessed.
Around 3 a.m. Wednesday morning, as I checked my phone before calling it a night, I saw Lacey's family had posted the news that she had indeed passed away.
At that time, a second memory of Lacey came to mind. Well, more of a catchphrase: "I have a history of victory."
It is her Twitter biography but on Wednesday it means so much more. Today, having a history of victory means smiling in the face of adversity. It means enjoying what opportunities life brings in the fleeting time we have. It means a little girl staring down the trying times with strength, perseverance and perspective.
Most of all, it means an 8-year-old girl from a small town in mid-Michigan won over the hearts of a nation with a relationship and a smile that does not vanish with death.
She has a history of victory.