In wake of personal tragedy, USM women’s lacrosse coach finds inspiration through player’s fight for life

Back in the Spring of 2008, Lauren Reid returned home to Portland to figure out what to do with her life.

Reid, a former all-American lacrosse player (and fellow 2002 graduate of mine) for the Deering High School Rams, had recently graduated from UMass where she had been a standout player for the women’s Division I team.

She had played for the University of Maryland her freshman year before transferring to UMass. While at Maryland she was a part of the team that made it to the NCAA Division I Final Four in 2003.

Following graduation from UMass, and prior to moving home to Maine, she worked for one season as the head coach for the Belchertown High School girl’s team in Belchertown, MA.

Reid has been a close friend of mine since grade school, and at the time I was an assistant coach for the boy’s lacrosse team at Deering, so when she got back into town I suggested to her that she apply for the open assistant job on Deering’s girls team.

With experience playing for high-caliber schools like Maryland and UMass, along with her near legendary status within the local lacrosse community and her time in Belchertown, she got the job easily.

The person doing the hiring happened to be another former Deering star athlete, Brendan Conway.

Conway, who had graduated from Deering in 1998, was one of the best basketball and tennis players in the state back then. I remember going to Deering games as a middle schooler just to see him tear up the hardwood.

At the relatively young age of 28, Conway had stepped into the vacant position for the Deering High athletic director. He had been a basketball and tennis coach there ever since returning to Portland following his graduation from Bates College of Lewiston in 2002.

The AD job seemed like a great fit for Conway, but just like Reid, he was still unsure of what to do with his life. So he only agreed to a one year contract for the position.

Regardless of the brevity of his contract he was happy to add such an accomplished and promising coach like Reid to his staff.

As fate would have it, their working relationship led to friendship following the season. Several months later the friendship blossomed into romance. As someone who was close to the situation I can say that they were truly in love. It was a wonderful thing to see two great people so happy together.

Feeling like she had found the right direction with lacrosse and with Conway, Reid decided to take a couple big leaps. She and Conway bought a house together in Cape Elizabeth and she applied for the open head coaching job at the University of Southern Maine.

Brendan Conway and Lauren Reid back in 2009.

Brendan Conway and Lauren Reid back in 2009.

With such an impressive background in lacrosse, USM was thrilled to hire her, and she was ready to make an impression in the Little East Conference, USM’s Division III athletic conference.

It didn’t take her long- after taking over the team in the fall of 2009 she led them to the school’s first ever conference championship and berth in the NCAA Division III national tournament in the Spring of 2010.

She also earned LEC Coach of the Year honors for her 2010 campaign.

During the next few years I became friends with Conway. The two of them loved hosting relaxed cookouts in their backyard and epic ping-pong tournaments in their garage.

Brendan Conway with his adopted dog Bruiser and cat Mowgli.

Brendan Conway with his adopted dog Bruiser and cat Mowgli.

They established strong relationships with each other’s families. Their parents and siblings all got along great together. Conway even bonded with Reid’s massive American bulldog, Bruiser. They were in love and supportive of each other’s dreams. They were perfect for each other.

After his time as AD at Deering ended, Conway continued to coach basketball and tennis for the school while he pursued other community oriented career goals.

He began a real estate career and focused on helping families in difficult situations who needed help. He worked in youth outreach programs, giving at risk kids a chance to do things like play organized sports and go to places like Aquaboggan Water Park.

In the Winter of 2012, with Conway serving as an assistant coach, the Deering High boys basketball team won the Class A state championship at the Cumberland County Civic Center. Reid was in the stands with her and Conway’s parents to cheer for him.

Brendan Conway with the 2012 Deering High School state championship boy's basketball team. Conway, standing third from the left, was a longtime assistant coach for the team.

Brendan Conway with the 2012 Deering High School state championship boy’s basketball team. Conway, standing third from the left, was a longtime assistant coach for the team.

When I spoke to her after the game, Reid was beaming with pride. It had been a remarkable playoff run for the Deering team, the community was buzzing. That year’s team was truly special and left all the players and coaches with memories to last a lifetime.

The spring of 2013 brought more success for Reid’s team at USM, but it also brought an enormous amount of adversity. One of the team’s standout players, junior Shelby Turcotte of Lewiston, had been diagnosed with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a deadly form of cancer.

Shelby Turcotte takes a shot in a 2014 game for USM.

Shelby Turcotte takes a shot in a 2014 game for USM.

For months, Reid and her team supported Turcotte as she fought for her life. Reid was there for Turcotte during chemotherapy sessions, and Turcotte made sure to remain a present figure around the team despite her inability to play because of her illness.

The team adopted a motto, “Play for 3″, an inspirational nod to Turcotte’s jersey number. They rode that rallying cry all the way to another appearance in the LEC championship game.

Unfortunately they lost in a thriller to Eastern Connecticut State University, but the team still had reason to cheer and it wasn’t just for a successful season- Turcotte beat her cancer.

Lauren Reid with Shelby Turcotte.

Lauren Reid with Shelby Turcotte.

Reid was ecstatic for her brave player, and with another LEC Coach of the Year award for her 2013 campaign the program’s future was looking brighter than ever.

Then this past November, a tragedy struck, shocking the community and painfully altering the course of the Reid and Conway families.

While playing at a Portland rec league basketball game with Reid and several of his coworkers and friends, Conway collapsed from an un-diagnosed heart condition and sadly passed away in Reid’s arms despite efforts by rescue workers to revive him. He was 34 years old.

As reported by me in my “From the Margins” column for the Portland Daily Sun back in February in a piece called, “Remembering a Coach who taught more than just winning”, thousands of people showed up for his services. The response was so great that Deering High School offered up their gymnasium as a venue for the funeral service and reception.

Lauren Reid stands with her longtime boyfriend, Brendan Conway, after a big win in 2013. Conway passed away unexpectedly in the fall of 2014 at the age of 34.

Lauren Reid stands with her longtime boyfriend, Brendan Conway, after a big win in 2013. Conway passed away unexpectedly in the fall of 2014 at the age of 34.

Reid, who conducted herself remarkably in the face of the life altering, agonizing loss, gave a powerful speech at his funeral. In the days and weeks that followed she vowed to make sure that Conway’s legacy of working with at risk youths and giving back to his beloved community will live on in the hearts and minds of the kids that he cared so much for.

With all the reason in the world to take a year off from coaching, she set her mind on keeping her commitment to her team.

Turcotte was healthy enough to return for her senior season, she and the rest of the team wanted to get back to the LEC championship game to avenge last year’s loss.

Reid put together interactive team building events like a ropes course challenge and a scavenger hunt in downtown Portland. On the team’s facebook page, several team pictures are posted showing the players having fun together, enjoying each other’s company.

The USM women's lacrosse team poses for a picture after completing a team scavenger hunt in downtown Portland.

The USM women’s lacrosse team poses for a picture after completing a team scavenger hunt in downtown Portland.

As a former player and coach, it’s easy to see that this year’s team not only has chemistry, they also care about each other and their coach. They didn’t have all the talent that they had last season, but they played hard enough to earn a four seed in the LEC tournament and had the chance to play a first round home game which they won over Eastern Connecticut 13-5.

For the conference semi-finals they drew an away game at number one-seeded Keene State University. Disappointingly, they came up short in a hard fought decision, losing 13-9.

It was a frustrating loss for the super-competitive Reid, but even though the season’s over she’s still finding things to keep her busy. Remembering her promise to herself to continue the outreach work that Conway had been so passionate about, she’s begun working with an organization that Conway worked for, called My Place Teen Center.

The kids at Lauren Reid's Friday afternoon outdoor exercise group show off their lacrosse sticks. The group is run through My Place Teen Center in Westbrook.

The kids at Lauren Reid’s Friday afternoon outdoor exercise group show off their lacrosse sticks. The group is run through My Place Teen Center in Westbrook.

In fact, she’s even started a weekly outdoor exercise group, providing kids with lacrosse sticks so that she can continue spreading her passion for the sport that she loves while honoring the memory of the man who she had hoped to spend her life with.

In a segment done by WCSH channel 6 news, which aired last week, Reid and Turcotte were interviewed at a practice leading up to their game at Keene State.

Turcotte, her team’s leading scorer this season, was asked to reflect on her battle with cancer and her return to the playing field, “I try to just enjoy what I have, when I have it.”

Based on those sentiments, it looks like the player might have learned something from the tragedy her coach is dealing with.

Said Reid on Turcotte, “she really is the poster child for our program and what our culture here is all about. We realize that this kid’s been through the ringer, and come out even stronger. She’s really shown what she’s made of, and I think she’s even surprised herself.”

Based on the strength that Reid has shown in the wake of such an enormously painful loss, it sounds like the coach might have learned a little something from her player as well.

Chris Shorr

About Chris Shorr

Chris is a lifelong Portlander who works on a lobster boat, advocates for the marginalized and downtrodden, and occasionally ruffles feathers in City Hall and Augusta.