She lives in you... the Krystal Thomas story

As told by Dwight Bain

Krystal Thomas is a champion in anyone’s book. By age 18 the 6’ 5” center had led her high school basketball team to back to back state championships with an average of 19 points/12 rebounds and named State Finals MVP both years. She had played in national tournaments like the McDonalds’s All America Game- where she led her East team to a victory, the WBCA All-America Game, (Women’s Basketball Coaches Association), the AAU Nationals and Nike Tournament of Champions. She had been named Miss Florida Basketball, the Gatorade State Player of the Year and earned USA Today, EA Sports, McDonald’s and Parade first team All-America for her high school career totaling 1,751 points, 1,357 rebounds and 268 blocks. She had won a full scholarship to play for the Lady Blue Devils of Duke University with her remarkable sports career as a teenager and she’s just getting started!

This outstanding athlete is already on the fast track to the Olympics by leading her USA Under19 Team to a World Basketball Championship and gold metal and is already a regular name on the sports pages covering Duke Basketball where she was named the ACC rookie player of the week after only two games! Krystal towers over her competition and is a powerful force under the rim, yet the greatest story isn’t her sports accomplishments it’s in challenges she overcame to even make it to the gym. Once you know the difficulties she faced to get to practice, you’ll better understand why she has the personal motto of ‘never quit’ and why this young woman said if she were to write an autobiography it would be titled... “Krystal Thomas: Rising above the storm called life”.

Krystal was the baby girl that made Natalie Thomas a mommy. Natalie and her husband Victor would have five children and a story-book life until a series of crisis events would come, taking both parents away when she was just a girl. Shockingly her dad was the first to be taken from her. Victor was one of the most respected law enforcement officers in his agency when an FBI sting led to his arrest for drug trafficking and eventual incarceration when Krystal was only eleven.

Tragically, only a few months after her dad was jailed, her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Natalie battled the disease with the most aggressive treatments available, alongside the drive of a mother who was dedicated to seeing her five children experience one more practice, one more game, one more birthday and one more Christmas together as a family. Her faith in God kept her battling strong for years. (You can read about her journey of fighting the cancer as a single mom in her autobiography, “No more than I can bear”.)

Natalie fought the cancer until her last day on this planet. Even though her body was ravaged by the disease she had the determination of a prize fighter with a never give up attitude. As her body was dying she wouldn’t stop thinking about her children and how to make it to the next special event together. When the doctors indicated there were no more medical options, her last goal was to make it through Christmas with her family. She died in January surrounded by her kids and a few friends.

Krystal didn’t cry at her mother’s funeral. She read from a carefully worded statement, with a personal message to her mom. “You’ll never have to miss another sporting event because you’ll have the best seat in the house.”

A few months after Natalie’s death, Krystal and her teammates qualified to play for their first of two state basketball championships and each player had an “NT” monogrammed on their jerseys so the memory of Mrs. Natalie Thomas would live on after her death. Even though cancer had prevented Natalie from attending many games the last few years of her life, her 'never quit' attitude lived on in the lives of her daughters and their teammates.

Natalie’s last wish was for all five kids to stay together, and thankfully a family whose daughter Alexa played on the team with Krystal and her sister Lauren offered to bring all five kids into their home to raise as their own. Don and Sheri Deluzio already had four children yet agreed to step into Natalie’s shoes to function as guardians for Krystal and her siblings. It wasn’t easy, but it worked and showed there are always people willing to come alongside to help if you have the courage to let them know your needs. The Deluzio’s have a heart as big as Texas and loved each of the kids through the loss of their mom for over a year and half until their father was released from prison. Sports bring people together as a family for a season with a single purpose- to compete and win. Yet this decision was for a bigger purpose than winning as an incredible demonstration of shared faith for five African-American kids to move in with a large Italian family to laugh and cry together as they built stability from what mattered most… each other.

Krystal went off to Duke, and her younger siblings still play basketball at the newly named Natalie Thomas memorial Gymnasium at the First Academy in Orlando, Florida and I suspect there is corner of heaven where she watches her kids play their best… because she lives on. Not just in a name memorialized on a building, but in the hearts and drive of each of these five remarkable kids who learned from their greatest teacher that ‘quit’ is never an option.

She especially lives on in Krystal and is the driving force behind what makes this amazing young woman so focused on success. You see, Krystal views sports as a stepping stone to an education that will open the door to another career, that of becoming an MD. Be looking for Dr. Krystal Thomas one day in the future, because of a little girl’s desire to become a doctor to compete on another level, that of battling cancer. The kind of cancer that takes a young girls family apart and then makes her have to grow up too fast, (Krystal was the main caretaker for all four of her siblings by age 11 and began driving them to and from school by the age 15 because her mom would be so sick from the cancer treatments).

Krystal wants to be a doctor to help make a difference so that other kids don’t have to lose their mothers at any age. She believes that quit isn’t an option for anyone and that no matter what you are facing you can make it with faith in God and a family that believes in you. She has both because she learned it from a great teacher, her mom. Natalie’s “can do” spirit of enthusiasm was strong, but it didn’t die with her, it still lives on in her daughter. She lives on in the drive of a young woman already making a difference because of the incredible power of belief.

No matter what you are facing today, Natalie would tell you to never quit and Krystal would tell you the same because she is true to her mother’s training that there is no other option but pressing on in spite of the odds. If a mother and daughter can face all kinds of challenges and grow stronger, you can too. So regardless of what sport you play, may Natalie’s spirit challenge you to never quit believing and may Krystal’s determination inspire you to dream big dreams and then have the courage to go out and live them. That way the spirit of a mom who never stopped believing in her little girl will grow strong in your life, just like it does for Miss Florida Basketball. You too will benefit from the power of a woman who taught her kids that no matter what you are to never, ever quit.

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