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Faith-filled grief

Young wife shares story of former Butler standout’s death from cancer


Andrew Smith Pablo Alcala/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT/Getty Images

Faith-filled grief
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Andrew and Samantha Smith were always an unusual couple. The shy but goofy Butler Bulldog basketball player was 6 feet 11 inches. She was 5 feet 1 inch.

But Andrew died on Jan. 12 at age 25 after a two-year battle with cancer that began soon after their marriage. “Andrew peacefully passed away in his sleep and in my arms as I told him I loved him this morning,” wrote his 24-year-old widow. The way the couple faced unusual circumstances with an unusual faith gained thousands of followers in the sports world and beyond.

Andrew Smith is one of only three basketball players in Butler University history with more than 100 wins and 1,000 points. He came into his own as a freshman off the bench in a 2010 Final Four run. The next year, “Moose” helped lead the Bulldogs to a second straight title game.

The cancer diagnosis came in January 2014, mere months after graduating and settling into Lithuania for European basketball. Even as Colorado Springs wife and mother Kara Tippetts was blogging her spiritual and physical journey with terminal cancer on Mundane Faithfulness, the newly married high-school sweethearts began Kicking Cancer with the Smiths.

Then came the ups and downs. Tense treatments had some success. In July 2014, Andrew collapsed at work and his heart stopped beating for 22 minutes, yet he suffered no brain damage. In the coming months, the couple rejoiced in healing, homebuying, and a little basketball coaching. But the cancer returned in the spring of 2015. A November bone marrow transplant failed with the news his lymphoma was now aggressive leukemia. He had little time.

“It has rattled our faith,” Samantha wrote. “It has made us question the purpose in the past two years. It has left us feeling completely helpless. We have screamed and cried. I can’t eat or sleep.” With a blog readership now in the thousands, they admitted, “We struggle to believe that God has pulled us through the last two hellish years to only have it end here.”

But Andrew and Samantha said they knew that God had a purpose for Andrew. “I’m not on this earth to go out and play basketball games. I’m on this earth to share a story people can hear,” Andrew told CBS Sports in March. “Before this, I was born [to a] Christian family, went to Butler, a Christian school. There were never any tests. I’ve kind of felt like this was my answer to my prayer even if it’s obviously not what I wanted.”

Before his death, Samantha wrote of continued love for the gospel in their pain: “Truly, Andrew exudes and shines the Light of Christ.” His former coach, Brad Stevens, took leave from the Boston Celtics to say goodbye and visibly fought back tears after Andrew’s death. “You get a lot more out of coaching than they do from you. … He set a great example.”

Doped up, fed up

The governing body of British athletics wants track and field world records reset. Damning reports by the World Anti-Doping Agency resulted in the banning of Russia from international competition due to state-sponsored doping. The most recent report on Jan. 14 extended charges to the world’s top track body itself, the International Association of Athletics Federations. The report said former IAAF President Lamine Diack’s government knew and allowed doping athletes to compete in the Olympics, extorting them in cover-ups. “The integrity of athletics was challenged as never before in 2015,” UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner said. —A.B.


Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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