Friday, June 1, 2018

Choose To Inspire

Peter Farrell, the former Princeton women's track and field coach, was one of the first people TigerBlog saw as he walked into the back of Jadwin Gym for the 21st Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Awards Banquet last night.

Peter, by the way, was dressed like he was auditioning for a new show, sort of "Miami Vice" meets "The Sopranos."

There are few people who funnier than Peter Farrell, and he certainly didn't disappoint in the first 10 seconds that TigerBlog spoke with him last night.

"If you told my daughters that they could come home for either Reunions or Christmas," he said, "they would say ..."

As Peter started down the path, TB knew the answer would be "Reunions" and that the punchline would be really good.

"... they would say 'okay, just ship me the presents.' "

Reunions it is.

There's something incredible about Reunions, something that Princeton people can't really understand because they have nothing to compare it to, the way non-Princetonians do. Take it from TigerBlog. Nothing close to Reunions exists at Penn.

Bryce Chase, whom TB wrote about after he broke his leg two weeks ago, is desperately hoping to get out of the hospital and make it to the P-Rade Saturday. If he does, he wouldn't be the first one to go from the hospital to Reunions.

Denna Laing did it two years ago.

Denna is a 2014 Princeton graduate, a former Tiger women's hockey player. Actually, scratch that. According to Denna, there are no former Tigers. As she would say, Tigers are Tigers forever.

Tigers are always Tigers, she would say during her speech last night, as she accepted the Class of 1967 Citizen Athlete Award, given for noble and selfless contribution to sport and society. That's Denna Laing, of course.

It was Denna Laing who, as a professional hockey player, suffered a major spinal cord injury on New Year's Eve 2015 in the Women's Winter Classic.

"I was looking for a new challenge," she said, "but this isn't what I had in mind."

It's been a challenge, certainly. Facing an uncertain future, Laing pressed into her rehab with all she had. When she finally had reached the point where she was able to leave rehab center, her first stop was Reunions at Princeton.

Denna Laing took the stage last night in her wheelchair, one that she controls with her hands. She moves her head easily, and her arms and hands as well. She speaks strongly. 

TigerBlog tried to write down as much as he could of what Denna was saying last night. Here are some of the highlights:

* control the things you can control, and there are three things that you can always control - your attitude, your work ethic and how you treat other people

* every interaction you have is an opportunity to inspire. She told the story of her Facebook posts and the reactions she got, first locally, then throughout the country, then around the world. People, strangers almost always, would tell her that they saw her story and it inspired them to work out, or learn to skate or start to play hockey. It was humbling, she said, and fulfilling.

* choose to be positive, even on your darkest days

There was another too. TB will get back to that.

The banquet each year comes on the Thursday when Reunions start. It's a festive time to be sure.

The seniors who are honored each year are ready to be festive. They've certainly earned it.

They're a few days away from graduating from Princeton. They've been challenged academically and athletically for the last four years, and they've come through it remarkably.

The banquet was a time to honor the entire class of athletes. In their four years, Princeton won 47 Ivy League championships and won at least 10 each year. The next highest total of Ivy titles the last four years was 38; the one after that was 17.

Princeton also had 25 of its 37 teams win a league regular season championship, and another - the men's hockey team - won the ECAC tournament championship to get to the NCAA tournament. Princeton also will have been the top finishing Ivy League team in the NACDA Directors' Cup each of their years.

By any measure, it's been a hugely successful four years.

The top athletic department awards were given out. Dov Weinryb Grohsgal - TigerBlog joked with him before that he had learned how to spell his name - won the Marvin Bressler Award for all his work helping athletes manage their academic and athletic responsibilities.

Chad Kanoff, the record-setting quarterback, won the Roper Trophy as the top senior male athlete. Vanessa Gregoire of the women's soccer team won the Von Kienbusch Award as the top senior female athlete.

Junior Oboh (men's volleyball), Natalie Tung (women's squash) and Abby Finkelston (women's lacrosse) won the Art Lane Award for contribution to sport and society by an undergraduate athlete. Delaney Miller (cross country/track) won the 1916 Cup as the athlete with the highest academic standing; she's headed to Stanford for her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

And there was Laing.

What else did she say?

Oh yeah. She had one last piece of advice for the soon-to-be-grads.

"When things are bad," she told them, "take comfort in knowing that Princeton Reunions come every year."

Her attitude continues to be amazing. Her refusal to be slowed by her injury is remarkable. Her spirit is obvious.

She's choosing to inspire, to use her words.

And she's succeeding spectacularly.

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