Facing cancer, Geppi-Aikens teaches lesson about courage

"You're down by 30 points. Everyone knows you're going to lose, but you keep taking timeouts. Everyone rolls their eyes. Why are they taking a timeout? But as a coach or a player, do you say, `You know what? We can't win this game.' Or do you play for respect?

"I think there comes a very important time in the last two minutes of the game, you either go for it, try to win that game the best way you know how. I don't think I have a choice. For me, it's that balance right now. What can I do to win? What can I do to stay at peace, knowing that I've got a bad situation here?"

Next week, Geppi-Aikens plans to fly to Anaheim, Calif., where the NCAA will honor her with its annual Inspiration Award. Accompanying her will be her partner, Andrea Borowsky, her father and two older sisters. Her mother, Catherine, will stay home and watch her kids, Michael, 17, Jessica, 15, Melissa, 12, and Shannon.

Geppi-Aikens is not good at tooting her own horn, but if anything proves the way she has touched so many lives during her tenure at Loyola, it's all the former players, fellow coaches and officials who have flown or driven in for a visit.

Friends and colleagues keep the phone ringing. They volunteer to take the kids to a movie. They send flowers, dinner, those coveted chocolate chip cookies.

"This lacrosse community is so close-knit, and the women, especially, take care of each other," she said.

They also help her stay focused on her goals. Most of all, Geppi-Aikens said, she wants to see a grandchild born. She wants to see her son graduate from Calvert Hall this spring. She wants to be on the sideline April 5, when Loyola gets its first TV game.

"I've waited 20 years for that," she said.

She also would like to see the final four, because she thinks Loyola is good enough to make it - again.

Regardless, this coach has already achieved such greatness. She has sought and achieved a balance between fighting and peace against an unfair disease - and she has never, not once, asked: Why me?

"I'm very fortunate, because you don't know how you're going to die and I do. This tumor's going to get me," she said yesterday, her voice trailing off into a nearly inaudible whisper as she fought back tears and the pain of knowing what she knows.

"The other thing is, like 9/11, people walked into those buildings and they had no idea they were going to die. All those things you hear about how those people would have wanted one more minute to say goodbye to their kids, to their families. I've got that. I can make the most out of each day, to be a mom to my kids. I can get at peace. I have that. I am very fortunate."

So is everyone else who has been touched by this coach, who is here, still teaching.