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"The Miracle Season" — Q&A with Dr. Ernie Found

“The Miracle Season” hits theaters on Friday, April 6.

The movie is based on the inspiring true story of an Iowa high school girl’s volleyball team that rallies together under the guidance of a tough-love coach in hope of repeating as state champions after the death of the school’s star player, Caroline “Line” Found.

Line was just 17 years old at the time of her death in August 2011. She lost control of her moped coming home from a Young Life church youth group meeting and hit a tree, dying instantly.

Her parents, Ellyn and Ernie Found, were devastated. More than 4,000 students across the state of Iowa attended Line’s wake. Less than two weeks later, Ellyn succumbed to the pancreatic cancer she had been fighting. She was 55.

Grieving the death of his daughter and wife, Ernie, a former spinal surgeon, was able to provide encouragement to a community in mourning and a volleyball team without its star player. Attending every Trojans volleyball game, Ernie gave Line’s grieving teammates and their coach, Kathy Bresnahan, some much needed hope.

What transpired after that was, in many ways, a miracle.

With Line’s shoes placed under the chair she would have been sitting in, the Trojans’ 2011-12 season went on to honor their fallen teammate and win the state championship for a second year in a row.

We had the opportunity to talk with Caroline’s father, Dr. Ernie Found, about how the movie came about, the family’s love for sports and how he has been able to turn his tragic story in a powerful message of hope and encouragement.

What was your reaction when you saw the movie?
When I saw the movie, I’d have to say my initial reaction was one of joyous relief. I say that because it was a long and arduous decision to go ahead with a feature movie thing. When the idea of it came on for us, it was, “Golly no, Hollywood isn’t going to enter into our hearts and into our jobs.” It’s just not something we felt was the thing to do. But over some time, we thought a lot about it and talked a lot about it and thought that if some benefit can perhaps come from it — even a single person, that they can improve their livelihood and their way of thinking about things and their way of making decisions — then it would be worth the effort.

What type of role did sports play in your life and your family’s life?
Sports was part of our lives from the get-go. My dad was a big baseball fan and basketball fan. He was my Little League coach. I played sports in high school and college. There’s no better way to learn about life than on the court and on the athletic field. That’s where you find out how people are, how they’re really like, who you want to be with, and you form your own opinion with who you want to spend time with and how you want to spend time. Caroline was dragged around to her older brother’s and older sister’s sporting events. When you’re younger, you want to do exactly what they were doing.

In the spring of 2011, your wife, Ellyn, is diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Tell us what you remember during this time frame in finding out about your wife’s diagnosis.
It was a shocker to say the least. Pancreatic cancer is probably one of the most deadliest and silent cancers that there is and it certainly was that way for Ellyn. It came totally out of the blue. Out of nowhere. She was healthy. She was running and jogging and walking in the morning, taking excellent care of herself and then developed symptoms that finally persisted. We go get that checked out and in 12 hours we’re hit between the eyes with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It rocked our world, as it does with everyone who is hit with that. We started the care but knowing that things were not good. It hit our kids as it hard as it possibly can, as it would anyone. We just said we would hang together and do the best you can.

And then 2011 doesn’t get better; in many ways, it gets worse. It’s August, and you get that dreaded call. Can you tell me what comes to mind when you think back to that night and getting that call and just trying to deal with your wife’s diagnosis, and then the call comes about your daughter?
Some of it I can see in my mind like it was just yesterday, and frankly, other parts of it has kind of drifted away and washed away a little bit, in all honesty. As I reflect back on it, it was night time. Carolina had been to a Young Life group meeting. They were setting up plans for what was yet to come. She and many of her friends had just gotten back a couple weeks previously from a summer week-long camp. A Young Life camp up in Minnesota that she and others just adored and had a wonderful time. It was a great experience for Caroline in knowing what her mother’s prognosis was and trying to deal with it, being at the Young Life camp helped her immensely and she came back excited to want to share some of the things that she thought about. Her death hit me right between the eyes. And then it was, “How do I tell Ellyn?” who was hospitalized at the time. And then getting a hold of my two children, it doesn’t get any worse. But you just got to kind of keep plugging and think about good things and what the next constructive step is going to be.

How did faith play a role in this for you?
I never really felt a great deal of anger. I questioned, “What is going on? Can it be true?” I didn’t feel it was my place to be angry. I didn’t know what or who to be angry at. I knew that love will persist, and comfort from others and comfort from above. I never really wanted to get angry. The more you question, the more you can get lost and the more you can’t find answers, because there aren’t. The more you question why or talk about what if, you end up totally empty. Being totally empty is not a very comfortable feeling. You’ve got to look for others and search out love and comfort from others, and thankfully we were blessed to be recipients of that.

Tell me about Caroline’s faith and how she got involved in Young Life and why that was so important to her?
She got involved mainly because her brother and sister were involved some in Young Life and her good friends were involved in it. She was very taken by her leaders. Leaders and mentors play such a huge role in teenagers’ lives. She loved being around them, she saw what was important to them. She, like any teenager, was questioning, “Where do I go, what do aspects of life mean? How do I remain a faithful and honest person?” She was, frankly, just growing like so many others were trying to grow at that stage of life.

Was there a moment where you let the light shine in? A moment where you were going to press on and choose to live?
I wish I did get a lightning bolt, a specific moment. I gradually experienced encouragement with the church that we attend. It has an outdoor chapel and was on the way to and from work. I would stop by there in all hours, 5:30 in the morning, 9 o’clock at night, just to be there. When I was there, I just felt like I wasn’t alone and there was someone else helping me out. It just kind of grew. I would ask for help and little by little, guidance would kind of come. I relied awfully heavily on friends and family and the thoughts of my parents and the things they went through as well.

Talk to those going through the loss of someone close to them. How do you encourage them on how to get through it?
The first thing I would say, it’s a never ending process. I still feel it every day and every night. It will not disappear. HBO’s Frank DeFord told me that time will not heal, but time will soften things. I would say to open my heart to others and to know that there are comforts that are there, but nothing will ever take it away. But that’s OK. It’s a long process, but there does come a time when it softens and lessens a bit. It takes some time. There’s no hurry to rush into it. The other thing I’d say is isolation, running away and hiding and denying will get you nowhere. It will make it even harder. Harder on yourself and harder on others. It’s by opening up your heart and allowing the hearts of others to be experienced by you, hopefully, can keep one on a good direction.

What does life look like today for you and keeping Caroline’s and Ellyn’s memory alive? How are you doing?
I’m doing well. I retired fairly recently so that’s an upbeat thing. Every day seems like a Saturday which seems like a pleasant thought, I guess. I rely heavily on our family’s friends and Caroline’s friends. You just turn to tomorrow. You keep thinking, “How can tomorrow be made better?” Not only for yourself, for those around you. There’s so much goodness in the world, we just have to bring it out. I take one day at a time. I’m blessed in many many ways and I hope to just be able to share those blessings. As Frank DeFord said, “Live like Line and you’ll be fine.”

LISTEN TO THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW ON EPISODE 97 OF THE SPORTS SPECTRUM PODCAST

 

 

“The Miracle Season” is in theaters everywhere Friday, April 6. Click here to purchase tickets and get more info on the film.

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