Beating The Odds: Boyle, Daugherty Bounce Back

by Michelle Smith

June Daugherty and Joanne Boyle earned their perspective and their lessons about resilience in the hardest possible way.

Boyle, in her sixth season as the head coach for the Cal women's basketball team, was an up-and-coming assistant coach at Duke under Gail Goestenkors back in 1991. She was in a hallway in the athletic department when she felt a stabbing pain in the back of her head. She was suffering a brain hemorrhage, her life in serious jeopardy.

Boyle needed brain surgery. She spent 13 days in the hospital wondering whether she would be able to go back to her life as she knew it.
The fact is, she wouldn't. Though she's completely recovered nine years later, that life as she knew it was over, replaced with another that involves more risk, and as it turned out, more reward.

"The core of who I am now is because of that," Boyle said recently. "It's not front-and-center every day, but when I have tough decisions to make or something is going on in my life, I go to that place. And I can get there pretty easily.

"It taught me to take risks, not to be complacent. You get used to being comfortable, and I was comfortable at Duke. But the aneurysm pushed me past the fear of failure thing that we all have. It was like 'Who cares if you fail? You almost died.'"

Daugherty, head women's basketball coach at Washington State, had a life-changing moment four years ago. She was pulling into the parking lot of a medical center in Everett, Wash., on the way to get a physical when she went into cardiac arrest. Her 13-year-old daughter ran into the clinic to get help. And that likely saved her mother's life.

Daugherty, who had been hired at Washington State just weeks before her medical crisis, spent several days in critical condition, endured complications and eventually was implanted with a defibrillator and pacemaker to regulate her abnormal heart rhythm. She recovered for several months before returning to the court in the fall of 2007.

"I'm fortunate to have survived," Daugherty said. "A million things changed for me. I appreciate the second chance."

Daugherty is speaking to other women about heart disease, spreading important information, getting her story out.

"A lot of things can come down the road, and you take what life gives you," Daugherty said. "I don't question why this happened to me. It happened, you accept it. Then what do you do about it?"

Daugherty went back to work.

"I remember my first game back and my brother called me and asked me how I felt," Daugherty said. "I thought he meant, 'How did it go? Did you win or lose?' But he was asked me how I felt. And really, I never thought about it because I was so into the game. Basketball helped me heal."

Daugherty has helped to elevate a struggling Cougars program over the past three years. She has brought in nationally-ranked recruiting classes, pushed the Cougars to double-digit victory totals and helped WSU move up in the Pac-10 standings.

The coach said her experience has had "way more positives than negatives."

"You share it with people, with your players, use it as a means to help them understand that things are going to happen," Daughterty said. "But you can do better and get after it and hope for the best. I want to give kids the confidence that you can get through anything."

Boyle's health crisis pushed her to leave Duke and accept her first head coaching job at the University of Richmond in 2002. Three years later, she took the Cal job and moved to the West Coast.

"I think that everybody has a journey in their life and some people don't recognize it," Boyle said. "That incident really put my journey on the fast-track. Coming to Cal was a leap of faith."

Boyle has led Cal to four NCAA appearances and last year she took a team dominated by freshmen to the WNIT title. The Bears are 11-7 this season, have experienced their share of ups and downs and are hoping a big late-season push will put them back in the NCAA brackets.

"I've talked about what happened to me with teams in the past, but not so much this year," Boyle admits. "There have been so many other things to talk about that have been more relevant to us and where we want to go. But there are times when it can be a valuable lesson to share. It's very easy as a coach to get in the mode of grinding and going 100 miles an hour. Sometimes I have to take a step and go back to that place and re-evaluate why I'm here."

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