STRASBURG — A health condition ended Lindsay Burton's basketball playing career early, but she never stopped wanting to be part of the team.
Burton, a 2014 graduate of Stewardson-Strasburg and a 2018 graduate of Greenville University, was recognized by the National Christian College Athletic Association as the recipient of the 2018 Heart of Courage Award. The award honors Christian athletes who show courage in the midst of difficult circumstances while at the same time inspiring others to live out their faith. She received the award May 31 in Greenville, S.C.
Burton played basketball at Greenville after playing all four years for the Shelbyville/Stewardson-Strasburg/Windsor Rams, finishing with 1,063 points and 812 rebounds — second in Shelbyville or Stew-Stras history behind Ann (Nottingham) Dunaway.
Burton, a 5-9 center, averaged 14.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game for the 6-20 Rams her senior season.
Burton was also on the second-place Class 1A volleyball team her senior year at Stew-Stras and played softball as well for Stewardson-Strasburg/Windsor. She was also a high honor roll student at Stew-Stras.
Things were going well at Greenville until her sophomore season when Burton fell ill on Christmas Eve and ended up missing a few games. In the summer of 2016, the standout athlete suddenly found herself short of breath after regular workouts. Persistent fatigue moved her to consult physicians. Tests revealed that she suffered from pre-lupus, a condition where the immune system attacks its own tissues.
Tests also revealed that she suffered from early onset psoriatic arthritis, an irregular heartbeat and pericarditis (inflamed tissue lining the heart). She did play one game her junior year (on Senior Night), the year the Panthers won the NCCAA Division I National Championship, but she did not play any more than that her final two years because of the health risk.
"I was bummed when they officially told me I was done playing," said Burton. "The coaches still wanted me to play a role on the team. I knew I wanted to be there.
"They rolled around an idea: What about being a student/coach? I was terrified because I had no experience coaching, let alone at the college level, but I wanted to be involved. I knew after graduation I wanted to be a coach. I coached with the junior varsity coach. I wish I could have played, but it gave me an opportunity to be on the other side of a college program."
Burton, who was one of seven Greenville players to be named a scholar-athlete in 2017, translated her skills at explaining and encouraging others into helping coach the junior varsity team.
Players said she demonstrated full joy and modeled selfless encouragement; coaches said she propelled the program to new heights with a big heart and deep love that, "changes people around for the better."
Burton said she started noticing during her sophomore year that she could not make it up and down the court.
"I would think I would have a really good basketball game when my parents (David and Jenny Burton) would be there and they were thinking you were not just tired, but lethargic," Burton said. "I simply could not do as much as I usually did."
Her symptoms were varied and severe. She could not tolerate sunlight, and her joints hurt and she labored to breathe during activity that once seemed normal.
The summer after her sophomore year she went on a mission to Panama with the team.
"I didn't want to miss the opportunity, and I wanted to do whatever I could to go," said Burton. "It was the best experience of my life and I am so glad I went."
Burton's cardiologist found inflammation around her heart and an irregular heartbeat.
"I was getting blood work done and had a lot of tests to narrow it down to what they thought it could be,"Burton said. "It is a stressful waiting game."
Burton will undergo heart surgery Aug. 7.
"It is not going to be a super invasive surgery and it is simple heart surgery, " said Burton.
Burton's influence extends to student preparing for the edTPA assessment for teachers. Burton's excellent performance on the edTPA so impressed the reviewers that the National Academy charged with implementing the assessment asked her permission to use her exemplary work in training videos.
On Burton's nomination, it said this from her Panther colleagues: "We have never met a player that displays a heart of courage more than Lindsay, which is somewhat ironic, since it is the condition of her heart that meant she had stepped into this role."
Burton's Greenville family, including coach Roy Mulholland, have helped along the way.
"I like the atmosphere at Greenville," said Burton, who majored in math and earned an endorsement in special education, and will teach junior high math and coach junior high girls basketball at Dieterich. "It is a small tight-knit community. There was a prayer group from the community that prayed for me. At first I wasn't getting any answers, no positive blood tests. I didn't know who to talk to, and one of my education professors set up an appointment with a professor in the theology department who has an autoimmune disorder. She helped me back on my feet with my faith. Every situation I was finding the negative in, and I am happy I chose to find the positive in everything. "
As for the award, Burton, who was student teaching, said she was told to go to the gym at 8 a.m. for an assembly.
"I walked in and there was the entire basketball team and coaches — I was shocked," Burton said. "I had no idea I had been nominated for the award. All of a sudden the head coach (Mulholland) takes the microphone. 'This is our team, but we are missing one person. Lindsay Burton, come on out to the floor.' I was so shocked about what was going on."
Burton got to meet coaches with over 500 wins and other national award winners at the ceremony.
"It was a very humbling experience," said Burton of the award. "I know that I would not take full credit for the award because I would not have earned the award without the coaches, the Greenville family that helped me get through it. Because of them, I didn't have to drop out. I got up and smiled every day. As a coach and a teacher, I know I will touch many lives. I want them to choose joy. Many people motivated me to choose joy and how you don't have to blame God."
Her friends and teammates made bracelets that said, "Joy." Burton later picked out a bracelet with "Choose," on it.
"That is my motto: Choose joy," said Burton. "Choose joy no matter what."