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A Dying Dad’s Last Wish

One father held on to hope that he’d get to see his daughter play in a varsity lacrosse game—a game no one will forget.

Heather and Carl Defoe by Gary W. Green/Orlando Sentinel

When the Winter Springs High girls varsity lacrosse team took the field September 22 in Winter Springs, Florida, everything about the event was wrong. The official lacrosse season was still six months away. Fourteen-year-old Heather Defoe, a junior varsity player, was in the starting lineup. The game itself—squeezed into halftime during a JV football game—lasted just seven minutes.

Just one thing was right. Extraordinarily right. On the sideline in a wheelchair, wearing a duplicate of his daughter’s purple No. 4 Winter Springs jersey, sat Heather’s dad, Carl Defoe.

Carl has fought lung cancer for three years. It has cost him part of one lung. The disease has inexorably spread to his brain stem and spinal cord. His doctors say he has but a few months to live. Carl has coached Heather in sports all her life. He had one dream: to see her play in a high school varsity game.

The school leaped to action, gaining special permission from the Florida High School Activities Association for the lacrosse team to hold an out-of-season scrimmage between the school’s varsity and JV teams.

In the abbreviated game, Heather scored three goals for the varsity team. Carl kept his composure till the final whistle, when his eyes began to tear. He is on his fifth round of chemotherapy. He tires easily. He has lost all his body hair.

“How do you feel?” an Orlando Sentinel reporter asked him.

“I feel lucky,” Carl said. 

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