Lauren Hill, gone at 19, but still an undying force

CINCINNATI - She was passion personified - pure bravery, bottled in a basketball jersey.

By the time CBS News met the Mount St. Joseph University freshman last October, she was already so sick she could barely dribble. But still made it to 6 a.m. practice.

Lauren Hill may have had a terminal brain tumor, but dying was the last thing on her mind.

"Because I feel like I'd be a quitter," she said.

Her sights were set on making it to her first college basketball game.

"I wanted to wear that jersey and feel like a superhero again - because that's what I feel when I put on the jersey and that number," said Hill.

Her number was 22. And everyone near where she lived outside Cincinnati, Ohio, would eventually come to know it. In fact, by game day, Lauren was so well known in the area, folks lined the streets just to see her bus drive by. The game itself, sold out - 10,000 seats gone in an hour.

Terminally ill basketball player Lauren Hill gets her wish

It was the first game of the college basketball season, and arguably the best. Everyone expected Hill to play just a few seconds and no one expected her to score. But right off the opening tip, this kid, who was eligible for hospice, made her first hoop.

Sports hadn't had a moment quite like that since Lou Gehrig.

"This has been the best day of my life," Lauren said at the end of the game.

Her last days really were her best. After the game she got on a Wheaties box. Her school gave her an honorary doctorate of humane letters. And most importantly to Lauren, through her "Layups for Lauren" challenge and other events, she helped raised more than $1.5 million for pediatric brain cancer research.

Friday afternoon, at a school vigil, friends got together to mourn their loss.

This was the only part of dying that Lauren dreaded. She hated thinking about how sad people would be. But other than that, she was remarkably accepting of her illness.

In fact, in one of her final interviews, Lauren said if someone had to get this disease, she's glad it was her.

She said kids who suffer from pediatric brain cancer needed an advocate.

"I'm so happy to be their voice and I'm so happy to be fighting for them," she said.

She really was that remarkable.

"And I really hope I can bring a change in the world," said Hill.

Lauren Hill, gone at 19, but still an undying force.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.