MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - You don't have to watch Susan Crownover coach her GPS softball team for long before two words pop into your mind: "tenacious" and "winner."
Her ultracompetitive grit has made her one of the state's most successful coaches -- with seven state championships in softball and two as the Bruisers' basketball coach before she retired from that sport. It's also how she played as a multisport athlete at Ringgold High School.
Those same traits, along with her faith, are what Crownover will use as she faces the toughest battle of her life now.
For more than 20 years she privately dealt with a disease called IgA nephropathy, a disorder that can cause the kidneys to leak blood and sometimes protein into the urine. Crownover and her husband David, who coaches at Ringgold, have raised two kids and been mentors to countless others who played for them, all the while keeping her battle relatively quiet until recently when doctors discovered her condition had worsened.
In April, tests revealed her kidneys are now functioning at only 8 percent, causing her to begin dialysis treatment and have have her name placed on the waiting list for a kidney transplant. But through it all, always the example of toughness for her players, Crownover has maintained her position coaching the softball Bruisers, guiding them back to the Division II-AA state tournament for the 17th time.
"I've noticed that I've been feeling worse the last few years, and then it really hit me about six months ago. I just started to feel really tired a lot," Crownover said. "Anybody that knows me knows I'm always on the go, but lately I've just been worn out and have no energy hardly at all.
"It's taken a lot out of me just lately. Once the Spring Fling is over, I'll really need to turn my attention to my health completely for a while. I can already tell I'll be exhausted after this week's tournament."
Crownover has been told that the average wait time for a kidney donor can range from four to 10 years. She's also been told the life expectancy for anyone on the level of dialysis she will require is about nine years.
"It's scary to hear some of the things the doctors throw at you," she acknowledged. "But I've already had family members and some from the GPS community who have offered to check and see if they're a compatible donor. So far none are, but hopefully we'll find one soon."
While she waits, the place that helps keep her mind off the tough hurdles she faces is a dusty ballfield. That's where she was again Wednesday evening, signaling to batters from the third-base line, yelling at umpires from the dugout. Always ready to high-five after a big win or throw her arm around a dejected player after a tough loss, Crownover has made the ballfield her home away from home for longer than she's even fought the disease. And it's the place she looks forward to returning to once a matching donor is found.
In the meantime, anyone wishing to find out if they are a matching donor can learn more either by going online at matchingdonors.com or calling 866-594-8349.
"It's been frustrating this season to feel like I can't give as much of myself to the team as I normally do, but I have no plans to give up coaching at all. That's just not me," Crownover said. "I have faith that God will take care of me and I'm going to keep doing what I love."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.