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Commentary: Polkey's death shows life's fragility

Michael Schwartz
By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, November 17, 2005
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I sometimes take for granted my opportunity to interview this fine athletic school's top athletes, getting to know the person behind that great competitor.

In my time on the Arizona Daily Wildcat sports desk, I've conversed with stars across the Arizona sports landscape: football's Willie Tuitama, baseball's Trevor Crowe and volleyball's Kim Glass, as well as small-sport studs like cross country's Robert Cheseret, tennis' Roger Matalonga and soccer's McCall Smith.

When I found out that I would be covering women's basketball this year, the first thing that came to mind was that I would get to cover star center Shawntinice Polk, who had become synonymous with Arizona women's basketball over her illustrious three-year career.

That all changed Sept. 26, when my editor called me up with news he correctly said I would not believe, that Polkey had suddenly died earlier that morning in McKale Center.

My first thoughts were that there must be some misunderstanding. This couldn't really have happened, could it?

Not to the most recognizable female athlete on campus, a 22-year-old athlete with WNBA aspirations in the prime of her playing career and life.

By now, it's common knowledge that a blood clot in her leg ended Polkey's life and affected the entire campus, especially the athletic community.

While it seemed like Polkey was friends with all 37,000 of us on this campus, and on some level she certainly was, many of us had only seen the 6-foot-5 larger-than-life giant pass by or heard her laugh from across the Student Union Memorial Center.

Polkey was seemingly everywhere on campus, always cheering on her fellow Wildcats on the field, court and diamond.

As many athletes and those close to her tell stories of her gregarious personality, her kind, gentle heart and booming laugh, many of us never got to know first-hand what Polkey was all about.

I saw Polkey a number of times cheering on the baseball team and chilling with men's basketball player Hassan Adams and Co. in the Student Union Memorial Center.

However, the only time I ever said a word to her was when I saw her and two teammates dancing and singing to rap music blaring out of a car on the street next to the Pueblo de la Cienega Residence Hall on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon last semester.

It seemed to be the embodiment of what Polkey was all about: just having a good time and not really caring about anything else in the world but having fun and making other people laugh.

Of course, all I could say was something stupid like, "Is this what the women's basketball team does for fun?"

If I had known that was the only time I would ever talk to Polkey, maybe I could have come up with something better to say.

That's the thing about life. You never know when a moment will be the last time you ever see somebody, as life changes in the blink of an eye and one final beat of the heart.

Polkey's death shows just how fragile life is. If such a strong, tough, kind woman with such a big heart and so much talent on the court and charisma away from it could suddenly collapse with little warning, it could happen to any one of us.

You never know when life will take away the people you love the most.

In our busy lives, we often take for granted that people in our lives will always be there, but that's not always the case.

The same goes for that interesting kid in your traditions and culture class whom you just don't have time to talk to.

You never know when it will be too late, so you've got to take every chance you get.

While in the scheme of things, those close to Polkey hurt much more than any of us who never really knew her, we've still got to feel regret and even jealousy that at least they had the pleasure of enjoying her company for some time.

At least they got to hear her jokes or listen to her lead a song to pump them up before a basketball game. They got to see what was behind the wide grin and really knew the person Polkey was.

All we can do is read about that in the newspaper.

While it's trivial that I never interviewed Polkey, it's legitimate to lament that I never got to know her as more than the star of the women's basketball team.

From what I've heard, if it were up to her, she would have known us all.

Michael Schwartz is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at

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