There are times in life where we are given the opportunity to step up, to do something greater than ourselves, and show true courage. Will we answer the call?
I'm still going to ask you, but not in the way I had expected to.
Cindy Stowell, a woman from Austin, Texas, was an experienced trivia player whose lifelong dream was to appear on an American game show called Jeopardy. Jeopardy has been on the air, in its latest version, since 1984, all with the same host, Alex Trebek.
She made the show, a feat that few who apply accomplish. One of my childhood friends is a former Jeopardy champion, so I know a tiny bit about the process. This will give you a small glimpse into Jeopardy, if you aren't familiar with it.
This week, Cindy's first show aired and she won. Then Cindy won again. And won still again.
But there was something different about Cindy. Her voice was hoarse, weak. And there was something not quite...right, as much as she showed her quick thinking and competitive spirit. I mentioned it to my spouse and he agreed.
I didn't know the rest of the story until yesterday, when I looked her up online.
Cindy Stowell competed on Jeopardy, on shows taped this summer, knowing that she was terminally ill. She had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in 2015. She had told the producers of Jeopardy, when she was called to audition, that the doctors had just told her they were running out of options - she had, perhaps, six months to live. If they could fit her into their taping schedule, she still wanted to compete, and donate her winnings to cancer research.
They fit her in. Cindy competed. She was feverish, fighting a blood infection when she competed, and was on painkillers. But she reached into herself for every ounce of strength. Her fellow competitors didn't know of her situation, but Alex Trebek did.
Cindy Stowell died on December 5, a week before her first show aired. She was 41.
She was able to watch her the video of first episode from her bed before she died.
In winnings, she may not be the #1 champion the show ever had. But, in spirit, she is at the top of the champion list. She showed us what every one of us is capable of.
As of today, she is still competing in the taped episodes. As one columnist wrote:
"I sit in awe of a brilliant woman earning every last dollar she can for the causes dearest to her; building a sum of infinite potential in the face of her own finality. I have never rooted harder for anyone to win anything."
Jeopardy keeps the results of shows a closely guarded secret (my friend couldn't even tell her closest family or friends) and we don't know, when the show airs again on Monday, if she will win still again. But I will be watching.
And thinking about how I can put the lesson she is teaching into action.