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THOMPSON AWARD FINALIST: Madison Garrett, Holston

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Holston High School's Madison Garrett.

DAMASCUS, Va. – Lisa Blackburn was home one evening alone with her two children – Faith and Carson – when Spooner, the family’s rescue dog, began barking. With her husband Sam out of town, Blackburn was a little apprehensive as Spooner rarely barked unless someone was approaching the house.

She went to the window and peaked out and saw movement on her front lawn. Someone was on the property. As the light of day was giving way to the dark of night, she saw not one but at least 10 or 12 shadows slowly crisscrossing her lawn.

Blackburn swung the front door open to confront the prowlers, who were startled when they looked up and saw her standing on the front porch. Blackburn couldn’t help but laugh when she recognized the intruders as members of her softball team at Holston High School.

“All over my front lawn there were plastic forks stuck in the ground,” Blackburn smiled. “There had to be hundreds of those forks all over the lawn. There would probably have been more than that if Spooner hadn’t barked and given away their prank.”

So, who instigated this bit of frivolity?

Madison Garrett, a pitcher for the Cavaliers, and Mia Altizer, her catcher, exchanged glances but neither was going to give away the name of the teammate who came up with this idea of forks on the lawn. The only confession by Garrett was that the prank was instigated by the seniors on the team of which she is one.

“Every year we play a prank on Coach Blackburn,” Garrett said. “We knew that her husband was going to be gone. So we bought several packs of those plastic forks. We would have gotten away with it if her dog hadn’t started barking.”

So who ended up picking up all those forks out of the grass?

“Coach Blackburn did,” said Garrett, unable to hold back a laugh.

Don’t think for a minute that was the only prank on Blackburn.

“One time we filled her car with balloons before she went to work. She didn’t catch us doing that,” Garrett smiled. “Then there was the time we baked a cake made out of sponges. We took it to her and she thought it was a real cake until she started to cut it and she couldn’t.”

Again, who comes up with these ideas? Again, Garrett and Altizer exchange glances with a hint of mischief in their eyes. Again, no confessions are forthcoming.

***

If one person deserves a little laughter, it would be Madison Garrett.

The date was Dec. 3, 2014, which was the darkest day in her young life. It was the day her mother, Penny, passed away from complications due to a rare form of cancer called Leiomyosarcoma.

Penny, who had been a cheerleader and a member of the band at Holston, was diagnosed with the dreadful news of cancer in December 2008. For the next six years there were hospital visits to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

There was fear and a sense of helplessness within the Garrett family as Madison, brother Peyton and husband Todd, a former star quarterback at Holston and director of Garrett Funeral Home in Damascus, struggled emotionally as they dealt with Penny’s illness.

Eventually blood cancer appeared in January 2014 and it wasn’t long before pneumonia invaded her lungs along with other infections which ended her life way too soon at the age of 46.

A loving mother and wife was gone.

“It was hard watching my mom go through that,” said Garrett, who was a sophomore in high school when her mother passed away and in the fourth grade when she was first diagnosed. “She was always on the sidelines in every sport I played. She was always there to support me if I was down.

“It was very hard growing up without mom in my teenage years. But I was blessed with an amazing family and lots of friends who helped me cope.”

The pain is evident in Garrett’s eyes when she talks about her mother. She misses her mom every waking minute. It’s a loss she will feel every day of her life.

“Going through with what I did with my mom made me stronger,” Garrett said. “She taught me so much. It made me live each day to the fullest because you don’t know your future.

“But mom had the biggest heart. She always said to be kind to others. I just hope to be half the person that she was.”

While Penny was battling cancer, she started the Creeper Trail Ride to End Cancer (C-TREC) and today Garrett continues her mother’s fund-raiser.

Garrett solicits company sponsors for C-TREC and has raised over $5,000 and C-TREC has contributed over $625,000 for rare cancer research.

“One hundred percent of what is raised goes to cancer research,” Garrett said. “Mom started the fund-raising because she wanted to give back to her doctors and hopefully one day a cure will be found.”

***

Madison Garrett is a multi-sport star at Holston – volleyball, basketball and, her favorite sport, softball. She is also a 4.0 GPA student.

On the softball field, Garrett is one splendid pitcher. The fact she was named to the 2015 VHSL 1A All-State team tells the story. There are other awards on her list of accomplishments.

How dedicated is Garrett to softball? An ugly incident last year answers that question.

“I’ve been a coach 20 years and last year in a game against Honaker was the scaredest I’ve ever been,” Blackburn said. “Madison swung at a pitch and it ricocheted off her bat and to her forehead. The ball went from her forehead all the way over the visitor’s dugout.”

Holston athletic director Travis Gray was there.

“I never saw anything like that,” Gray said. “She went down like a shot. It was the scaredest I’ve been in my life.”

Blackburn, Gray and others ran to home plate where Garrett had fallen.

“When I got there she jumped up and was smiling and said, ‘I’m OK,’ ” Blackburn recalled. “She thought she was going to finish the game, but we took her to the emergency room where it was determined she had a concussion and it left a pretty good size pop knot on her head.”

Three weeks later, Garrett was back to finish the season.

“She was determined to get back,” Gray said. “A lot of kids would be gun shy, but not Madison.”

It’s that kind of determination that makes Garrett a leader on and off the field.

“Madison’s our leader,” Altizer said of Garrett who is team captain in all three sports she plays. “Everyone looks up to Madison, but more so she is the most caring person I have ever met. If she sees you’re down, she’ll ask how you are doing and she means it. She goes out of the way to help anyone who needs help.”

Altizer’s assessment is echoed by Blackburn.

“She’s a soft-spoken leader,” Blackburn said. “The other girls call her mama. She’s encouraging to others. She handles everything with grace and dignity. When she was going through her mother’s illness it was Madison who was trying to make others feel good. Madison is a lot like her mom. She is all about helping others.”

When fellow classmates went to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in the aftermath of the recent fires that left Gatlinburg, Tennessee, devastated, Garrett made it a priority to join them.

“We helped organize donations. We filled boxes with supplies to be given to those who had lost everything in the fires,” Garrett said. “It was an eye-opener and an opportunity to help others in need.”

***

Garrett’s high school days are about over. The softball season is coming to a close and she hopes – and believes – the Cavaliers have a shot at winning a state championship.

In the fall, Garrett will be attending the University of Virginia to major in biology and then on to medical school and her desire is to become a pediatric oncologist.

“I want to dedicate my life to finding a cure for cancer,” Garrett said. “And, I love working with children.”

As her mother was battling cancer, Garrett knew this was the career she wanted to pursue.

As a matter of fact, she spent a week last summer shadowing Dr. Robert S. Benjamin at the hospital in Houston where her mother was treated.

“Spending the time there helped me realize even more what I want to do with my life,” Garrett said. “I went in when Dr. Benjamin talked with patients and he showed me how to read scans. That time there just inspired me even more.”

Time stops for no one. Madison Garrett is realizing that. The high school years have zipped by. The days of going one-on-one in basketball with her brother Peyton are just memories.

Peyton, who was a senior when his mother passed away, won the Gene “Pappy” Thompson Award for Excellence in 2015 and he’s just completed two years at Virginia Highlands Community College. In the fall he will be attending Virginia Tech and working toward a degree in engineering.

Graduation day is fast approaching, there’s more softball to be played and prom night is just around the corner. Special occasions that she wishes her mom could be a part of.

Especially prom night as Garrett was voted prom queen by the student body just as her mother was voted homecoming queen when she was a student at Holston.

Then again, Garrett knows her mom will be right there with her as she walks across the stage to get her diploma and from the bleachers she will hear those encouraging words.

Penny Garrett continues to inspire her daughter and she always will.

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gstone@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Stone_BHCSports | (276) 645-2569

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