Every game, there is one piece of my uniform that I never forget. It’s a white Under Armour sweatband with the name Greg embroidered in black.
My teammates could tell you that whenever I misplace this armband, I get a little frazzled. Not because I am a superstitious player, but because of how important the name on the armband is to me. The name brings me comfort, motivation and an inspiration to fight. The person whose name is embroidered onto this armband is the person I strive to be like every single day. This person is my older brother Greg.
Greg was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy when he was three years old. What this disease meant was that the muscles in his body would slowly degenerate as he got older. By the time he was 10 years old, he would have to live the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
My family and I lived in New York, and by the time Greg was seven, my parents were forced to make the tough decision to move away from all of our relatives and start a new life in Orlando, Fla. The weather and lifestyle there were better for Greg’s condition.
Once we got situated in Florida, I jumped right into playing sports.
I tried everything from soccer to basketball, but I quickly developed a love for softball. My mom played softball in college at Brown and C.W. Post, and much of my love for the game came from me wanting to be like her. Before I knew it, I had transitioned from Little League into playing competitive 12-and-under travel softball. This transition didn’t just affect me but my family as well.
As I got older, the traveling required long weekends away from home driving up and down the state of Florida and even across the country for tournaments, spending 14 hours at a time in the scorching southern heat.
Greg loved every minute of it, though. He loved watching my team play. When I started the recruiting process to play softball in college, he wanted to be completely involved. He knew I wanted to go to an academically rigorous school, and I would sometimes come home from practice to find him researching Ivy League schools and checking out their softball programs online. He also knew that Penn was my dream college since I had visited campus as a sophomore in high school.
For some reason, I think he had a feeling I was going to end up here.
Aside from his love of softball and all sports in general, Greg loved school. He was extremely gifted, and I admired his passion and love for learning. His condition brought him challenges, but he ended up graduating from high school at the top of his class and getting accepted into a local college.
He just had this natural ability to light up a room and make everyone happy and laugh. My brother and dad were both huge New York Jets fans. They would sit together and watch the Jets every Sunday. Most of the time the two were left staring at the TV shaking their heads. Greg would jokingly turn to my dad and say,
“Thanks for making me a Jets fan.” My dad took the losses the worst, but Greg was always there to comfort him, telling him that next season would be the season it would all come together. He would follow them in the offseason hoping that they would finally get a good quarterback.
My father still says to this day that the Jets getting Mark Sanchez was a gift from Greg. What was admirable about Greg was that he never complained about his condition and always put others first. I didn’t realize how much he meant to me though, until he was gone.
My brother passed away my junior year of high school, the weekend right before my high school team’s regional playoff game. The game was set for the following Tuesday — the same day as Greg’s funeral. But I knew that after the funeral, I had to play for him later that night.
Although my team lost the game, that day made me realize how inspiring my brother truly was to other people. Hundreds of people in my community came to watch the game and honor him.
Over the next two months after he passed away, I began to hate the game that I had loved so much. Everything about it made me remember him. I would look to the side of the stands and not see him and find myself tearing up on the field. I was struggling at the plate, angry at everyone around me, and I didn’t understand why someone like my brother had to suffer.
The summer after my junior year was also extremely important for college recruiting. I hadn’t committed to a college yet, and at this point, I didn’t even know if I wanted to play softball in college anymore because it reminded me too much of my brother. When
I received a call from Penn coach Leslie King asking me if I wanted to be a member of Penn softball’s class of 2014, I realized that this was what I truly wanted, and I immediately thought of my brother. Deep down, I knew I still loved the game, and even though he wouldn’t be there watching, he would always be my biggest fan and supporter.
It is because of my brother that I am the softball player, and the person, I am today. It has taken some time, but I strive to be just as compassionate and motivated as he was.
Yes, there are days when the game gets emotionally and physically tough, and there are days when I really miss him, but looking down at my armband and remembering him puts me at ease. I step out onto the field playing each game for my teammates, my parents and, most of all, for him.
ELYSSE GORNEY is a Penn softball captain, College junior and communications major from Orlando, Fla.
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