Heart, Hope, and Perseverance: The Story of Tiffany Tate

Tiffany Tate (above, furthest left) aspired for a career in the WNBA before she was sidelined with cystic fibrosis
Seton Catholic High School

I was in the fourth grade when I first met Tiffany Tate.

We were students at Goodman Elementary School in Chandler, Arizona. Every recess, my friends and I would play basketball outside in the 100-degree heat. Like clockwork, we would go through the painstaking process of picking captains who would then select players, one by one, to be on their team.

In the thousands of games we played during those years, there was one moment Ill never forget.

As the selections for each team progressed, a few of us noticed a girl on the sidelines waiting to be picked. Naturally, being immature and foolish young boys, we all had looks of confusion on our faces. Although we wouldnt admit it, the fear of getting cooties may have played a part in our bewilderment.

What is she doing here? I asked a few of the guys.

I dont know, but Im not picking her, said one of the captains.

Tiffany ended up being on the same team I was on. After a few possessions up and down the court, Tiffany hadnt touched the ball once. Realizing this wasnt right, especially considering she was a brand new student on her first day, I passed Tiffany the ball the next time we were on offense.

There, I remember thinking begrudgingly, at least somebody gave her a chance.

Just a few seconds later, thats when it happened. The jaws of every kid playing basketball dropped to the ground. Eyes bulged out of our sockets. Gasps of air took the breath out of everyone.

Upon receiving my pass, Tiffany proceeded to cross-over one of the better defenders on the court. Now, I couldnt be sure, but I was fairly certain this broke at least one of his ankles. As if that wasnt enough, she then dribbled in past two other defenders and laid it off the backboard with her left hand.

Um, what just happened? I asked one of my friends.

He didnt hear me. I suppose it wouldnt have mattered if he did; we were both having trouble comprehending what we just saw. I had never seen anything like that before  boy or girl. In awe, I wanted to be the first to say something like nice shot to Tiffany but Im sure it came out of my mouth sounding like acdle slzke.

Fast-forward a few years. Tiffany, now in high school, has just won the state championship two years in a row. Multiple colleges and universities have already sent her recruiting letters. The hard work and dedication from such an early age is beginning to pay off. With aspirations of making it to the WNBA, Tiffany continues to inch closer and closer to her dream.

Or so she thought.

See, what I havent told you is that Tiffany has cystic fibrosis. Born with a blockage in her intestines, the news came after surgery corrected the impasse at just four-months old. Now that I think about it, maybe I shouldve also mentioned that since she was a little girl, Tiffany has had to do breathing treatments (similar to those with Asthma but more in depth) for over two hours every day in order to breathe. Oh, and by the way, she was still a major contributor on those state championship teams in high school while utilizing just 50 percent of her lung capacity.

Eventually, the physical demands took a toll on Tiffany and she wasnt able to perform at the elite level she was accustomed to; thus, ending the dream of playing in college and beyond. She had the talent, skills, and desire but with the equivalent of less than half a lung she simply wasnt able to keep up.

That was the hardest reality I had to face, said Tiffany. I knew I might not live a long time, but to find out that I had colleges looking at me and knowing I couldnt go on to play crushed me. Basketball was my life and my dream. I wanted to play in the WNBA and I truly believe I would have achieved that goal if it werent for my disease.

Perhaps even more amazing is that she kept this a secret for most of her life; not because she was ashamed or embarrassed but because of how much she loved the game of basketball. I had no clue whatsoever the problems and adversities she faced and neither did the majority of her friends. She didnt want pity; she just wanted to play the game that meant so much to her.

Fast-forward ten years to today. Tiffany, now a high school basketball coach, needs a lung transplant in order to survive. Breathing is more difficult than ever causing her extreme fatigue and low energy. Now down to just 25 percent lung capacity, the realization a transplant might not happen continues to loom over Tiffanys head  especially considering Tiffany lives in Arizona.

In October 2010, the state announced it would stop financing certain transplant operations under their version of Medicaid. Without help from the state, many doctors say this is a virtual death sentence for low-income patients. Transplants like the one Tiffany needs cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Without a means to finance the operation out of their own pocket, patients are left scrambling for funding, resources, and hope. In such a difficult time, Tiffanys family, friends, and players have been invaluable.

I wouldnt be where I am today if it wasnt for my family, Tiffany said with a smile. We are very close and they are my backbone. My players keep my mind off my issues and allow me to focus on them and trying to be there for them. They make me laugh everyday which is huge for me. I have so many friends in my life that have been here for me as well. Its amazing; I know I am very blessed to have such a strong group of people all around me.

Im proud to say Im not the same nave kid I was when Tiffany and I first met. In fact, Tiffany has been a big reason why Im so involved in womens basketball and womens sports in general. From the day I met her, Ive always admired Tiffany for her lust for life and sense of optimism. She has never been a person to let pessimism or obstacles stand in her way. She would rather focus on the positive than dwell upon the negative  something we could all learn from.

I think I am positive because I truly believe having that positive attitude will help me in the long run, Tiffany said. I believe in changing my mind to always think positive things; then, more positive things will start happening to me. It gives me hope.

If you ever question the type of human being Tiffany is, take a minute to look at the Facebook page her high school players created for her called Save Coach Tate. The outpouring of love and support is a daily reminder of how many lives Tiffany has impacted and changed for the better. The Phoenix Mercury recently named her as one of their Women of Inspiration in 2010. Selfless in nature, the only reason Tiffany decided to speak out about her story was to raise awareness and help others facing a similar situation.

It has been very difficult coming out publicly about this, said an emotional Tiffany. I have always been a very private person. I knew, though, that I was doing the right thing not just for myself but for the others that didnt have a chance to speak out in the media.

Tiffanys road ahead is long and the path continues to narrow. All the while, Tiffany has stayed the same loving, caring, and genuine person many of us have known since elementary school. I remember gaining such respect for Tiffany first because of the way she played basketball, but ultimately for who she is as a person. The strength she demonstrates every single day has been, and continues to be, remarkable.

It has become increasingly clich to say a human being is inspirational. Still, I can think of no better term to describe the warrior that is Tiffany Tate.

To donate to Tiffanys cause, please visit www.benefitfortiffany.com for more information.