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Life School coaches help parent with multiple sclerosis see her son’s last game.

Submitted by Chelsea Groomer

After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year, Life School parent Lanita Smith feared she would never see her son play football in-person again.

But, in the spirit of collaboration, three Life School coaches worked together to make her wish come true by providing special seating accommodations on the field for the Smith family. Lanita told how it was a moment they'd never forget.

“I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it,” she teared up.

The Smith family: back row, from left: Elijah Smith, Jonathan Smith, Lanita Smith. Front row: Evan Smith, Ethan Smith.

Since July, Lanita’s mobility deteriorated as the autoimmune disease changed her life drastically. Having turned 40, she described her condition as a “thorn in her side,” restricting her mobility to using a walker and a stride of a “95-year old woman.”

With her oldest son, Elijah, beginning his football career at Life Middle School Waxahachie (LMSW), she told of his dedication to the game and how she cried when she wasn’t able to attend. Lanita’s limited mobility made it difficult for her to climb stairs or watch games from the bleachers.

That’s when Lanita’s husband, Jonathan Smith, began broadcasting Elijah’s games to their home TV through Facebook Live. Not missing a moment, she noted that’s where she drew inspiration and set a goal in physical therapy to see Elijah play in-person before his season ended.

“He [Elijah] had worked so hard. Every day he was getting up, getting in shape, and he was focused on football. I cried because I wasn’t able to make it to the games,” Lanita explained.

After months of hard work, Lanita’s progress improved. But, only days before her son’s last game of the season, she hit a plateau that held the dream of watching her son from the bleachers out of reach.

“It felt like I was going backwards,” Lanita recalled. “Then out of the blue my husband gets a call with news from the coaches.”

Hearing of Lanita’s predicament, LMSW Junior High Football Coach Joshua Stinedurf collaborated with LMSW Athletic Coordinator Justin Burns and Life High School Waxahachie Athletic Coordinator Michael Welch on a plan for her to attend.

“I talked to Coach Burns about the idea of allowing his [Elijah’s] mom to come to the game,” Stinedurf recalled. “It seemed like the thing to do, and the entire coaching staff agreed.”

Coordinating special arrival transportation and seating accommodations for the Smith family in the endzone, Burns notified Jonathan with the invitation.

“After he told me what was going on, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe it,” Jonathan’s voice cracked. “I rarely cry about anything, and I actually shed a few tears.”

“It goes to show that you have coaches who just do a job and get to the next level, and then you have coaches that care about their players, their lives, and their family. That’s extremely rare,” he emphasized.

Upon arrival, Welch and LMSW Principal Freddie Stanmore greeted the Smith family and escorted them to the field in a golf cart.

“The part that made my day was when my son came to hug his mom on the field before he got ready to play,” Jonathan said. “That will be embedded in my son’s mind for the rest of his life. Those are the memories you look for.”

And if the moment couldn’t get better, Lanita told how Elijah made his first touchdown, a goal he had been working toward all season long.

“I was able to be there to see it!” Lanita exclaimed. “I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh! He did it!’”

Jonathan interjected with a laugh, “I jumped up and had to remember that I can’t run onto the field! And to see this huge smile on my wife’s face is something I won’t forget. My son has been so close to catching a touchdown every game and the game he scores is the game his mom was able to be at for the first time -- all of that is surreal!”

Though Lanita says that her multiple sclerosis has held her back in some ways, it hasn’t stopped her from pursuing life with resiliency and gratitude.

“I’m so thankful I could be there and that the coaches would even make these accommodations for me and my family” Lanita expressed. “This autoimmune disease has been tough on all of us, but I’m so very grateful for Life School.”

“If I could tell the coaches anything I would say thank you for wanting to make sure Elijah’s mom was there for his last game,” she said, smiling.