SPOKANE, Wash. - When you talk about prep sports in Spokane, you have to talk about Linda Sheridan. She won so often at Shadle, they named the court after her. Now, Sheridan is facing the challenge of her life in the form of Lou Gehrig's Disease. She's relying on old friends and new to help her through.
If you played high school sports and had a good coach, you were lucky. If you had a coach like Linda Sheridan, you were blessed.
"If you played for Linda Sheridan, there is a mutual bond for sure," said Kirstin Davis, who played volleyball for Sheridan in the 1980's.Former Shadle coach reveals battle with ALS
Sheridan's teams are responsible for many of the championship banners that now hang in Shadle's gym. During her tenure, Sheridan won 17 GSL titles, seven state championships and played in 32 state championships. She taught and coached for 25 years and changed countless lives. Now, Sheridan is facing life after the buzzer.
"I don't do - why me?" Sheridan said. "I really don't. I'm surprised, almost."
Surprised, by a diagnosis that puts a timeline on her life. The symptoms started last summer with weakness in her shoulder. Months later, she heard the words no patient wants to hear.
"The first time someone says ALS - I'm looking at a pinched nerve still in my shoulder," Sheridan said of the diagnosis. "You don't go from there to ALS very easily."
Once Sheridan accepted it, she had to tell the people who love her. She wanted to wait until after the Inland Northwest Sports Hall of Fame luncheon in October, so not to distract from the event she helped plan. The very next morning, she sent an email.
"I sent it to key people in my life - and, I ran," Sheridan explained. "I went to the lake where we don't have internet, don't have anything. I just ran. I can't take care of people in their grief."
"I remember distinctly in her email," said former player Kirstin Davis. "Her words were, 'I can't coach you through this one.'"
But, this former coach still had a team. Those players and friends immediately rallied to help. And, a new team came forward - a group of volunteers called the ALS Service Organization.
"There's a lot of little things our organization does, like wash windows for people, weed their gardens, rake up their leaves in the winter," said ALSSO President George Akers, who lost his wife of 50 years to ALS. "[Our goal is] to make their lives a little easier and more convenient."
In Sheridan's old house along the Spokane River, the organization, made up entirely of volunteers, saw a need for a first-floor shower. They helped plan for that construction, carried out by Sheridan's neighborhood contractor. While she was still getting used to the diagnosis and the changes that come with ALS, those volunteers started filling needs Sheridan didn't even know she had.
"Before we knew it, there was George who changed the toilet, brought it a bidet, got some utensils that would help with my hand strength. Within the first month, they offered me so many tools - practical tolls for where I was."
Sheridan has been very private with her diagnosis. But, she agreed to share it now for one reason: so that the ALSSO can get some attention and, hopefully, some donations.
"This is the level where the people need the help," said Sheridan. "They're doing it on a bake sale budget."
As for Sheridan, she doesn't see a terminal diagnosis as a death sentence by a call to live. She and her partner continue to travel and they've bought a place in Priest Lake where Sheridan says she can just be herself. She's not someone's teacher or someone's coach - and, she's not trying to console others about her condition.
"You find the pleasure in the most unusual moments that usually slip by in a day that's filled with careers and stresses and strains of whatever. You don't notice today that you saw the first birds twitterpating outside. It just changes things. And, it's a good change."
We're all going to die, she knows. But, Sheridan also knows her life has been blessed through the games she's won and the lives she's touched. Until that last breath comes, she's choosing life.
"Everybody goes through this," Sheridan said. "The thing that's really wonderful is to continue to see people in their wellness, support their wellness - to know that living in this moment, finding something in this day that was fun and special, is the most important thing I do."