Brittany Elizabeth Coppedge
Submitted in loving memory by Tammy Coppedge
Raleigh, North Carolina
“Sugar and spice and everything nice…”
Sometimes I think that poem was written especially for Brittany. With a heart for others, even from a young child, she would be the first one to step up when someone needed her help. Whether it was a fellow competitor who needed some chalk or a hair tie, or a stray dog standing beside the road hours from home, Brittany was quick to take care of the situation. However, mixed into that sweet nature was just enough spiciness to keep people guessing just what she’d do next. From sneaking into the student center after hours for a game of pool to making a deal with her coach and getting her belly button pierced after a competition, she sure knew how to keep life interesting. But no matter what it was she wanted you to do, she had a way of making you believe it was exactly what you’d planned all along. Brittany truly lived her motto: "Don’t wait for your ship to come in. Row out to meet it.”
In her 19 years, there were very few times when she didn’t follow through on what she wanted to do. At 6 years old, Brittany decided that gymnastics looked like fun. She’d watched the National Championships on TV and begged to be enrolled in classes. After her first week, she declared that she would be on the Jr. Team within six months…and she was. The following year she was entered into her first competition and she fell in love with it. There were ups and downs, good days and bad, tears of joy and frustration. As the years went on, she had the typical challenges of ankle and wrist injuries, growth spurts and watching friends leave the sport. Brittany never complained. She didn’t skip practices because she was tired or had a party she’d rather be at. She often went to practices even though she wouldn’t be allowed to train because she was injured.
During one winter / spring season, Brittany competed quite successfully in spite of nagging back pain. She never missed a workout or a competition, and it wasn’t until after the season ended that we found out she’d had a stress fracture in her lower back. Even with the mandatory three months of rest, she was at the gym every day to condition. She was “rowing out” to meet her ship, wanting to be ready when she was allowed to resume training. During her senior year, just two days before her State Championships, Brittany broke her foot on her beam mount. Instead of withdrawing, she went on to win 5 medals and qualify to the Regional Championships.
It was her determined attitude that sustained her during her 13 years in the sport…a sport that she loved and one she missed terribly when she left for college. So much so that when she came home for Christmas break her freshman year, she went back to her former coaches and asked to be allowed to train with the team. After just one week, she entered into a competition and qualified to the state championships. Brittany found a gym about an hour from her school where she could train three days per week so that she could continue competing.
In February of 2006, Britt was hospitalized for 3 days after becoming dehydrated following a throat infection. Two days after being released, she drove from Banner Elk, NC to Myrtle Beach, SC for a competition and drove home the same evening. She just didn’t see any reason not to do something if she really wanted to do it. Whether on a dare or a whim, Brittany wasn’t one to say no too often, and if she did it was usually after kicking and screaming over it.
That attitude and grace under pressure became even more important in December, 2006. Brittany was dealt a hand that surpassed anything she’d ever faced before. After 10 days of test after test, she was given a stunning diagnosis. With her family by her side, she was told she had lung cancer. A non-smoker, a lifelong athlete…it just didn’t seem real. Of course, at first she was devastated, and then the doctor told her there was a chance they may be able to help her. She’d need a double lung transplant.
In that moment, Brittany turned to look at her mom and then at the doctors. No longer was she devastated…she was determined. Her focus was on the battle she was facing and her words were “Let’s do it” and “Where’s my phone?” Her first calls were to rally her loved ones and friends around, to be able to tell them herself. Even in that moment, she was thinking of others. She didn’t hide or run. She faced it head on, just as she’d done all her life. Her strong will would continue to sustain her and she fought until her body just couldn’t fight any longer. It wasn’t Brittany who gave in…she just found another ship to “row out to meet.” www.brittanysbattle.org