Spikes11 Feb 2021

Walk Tall


Arthur Price III

by Arthur Price III

Losing a parent changes you. In a way, it forces you to leave a past self behind. From that moment on, things are never quite the same.

But as much as it hurts, as long as that pain lasts, it forces us to learn the ability to cope, to grow, to find a way to pick your head up and walk tall.

The first two weeks after my Mom died, I couldn’t accept it. I didn’t go to her viewing. I knew I couldn’t handle it. The first month or two, I cried before every single race because I knew she had stuck with me through all these times, good and bad.

There were nights in hotel rooms, away from home for a meet, when I couldn’t stop the tears, and it took many months, maybe even years, to fully accept she was gone.

But anyone who’s been through this will know what I mean when I say she’s still with me. She is 50 per cent of my DNA, she made me the man I am, and so before every race I point to the sky, an I-love-you to my Mom.

I know she’s here in spirit.

Her name was Joycelyn, and she was a teacher at our local elementary and middle school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As a kid that can be kind of embarrassing, with my Mom blowing me kisses in the school corridors, so we came up with a system where we’d bump our fists to our chests when we saw each other, a code between us to say: I love you.

Arthur Price III

At home, it was often good-cop, bad-cop between my parents and my Mom was usually the good cop. But anytime she wanted something done it was done immediately. She didn’t have to raise her voice; there was that level of respect.

She instilled discipline, hard work, but we were more than mother and son. We were best friends. Going to private school in the south, there weren’t many black kids in my class and even though I’d talk to other kids, we didn’t do much outside of school.

Filling that void was always my Mom.

At weekends we’d go riding in the car for hours, finding something to do, and when I started getting into sports she was my number one fan, bringing me to practice and camps.

But when I was in high school, my father started noticing some changes in her behavior: she was starting to forget things, didn’t seem her normal self.

One day, I was in class and my teacher got a phone call saying my Mom was in hospital. I automatically started freaking out. They said they thought she had a stroke so I went to the hospital, talked to my Mom and it was very apparent there was something wrong. It wasn’t a regular stroke, there was something deeper.

They discharged her after a few days, but a couple of weeks later my Dad started to wonder if they diagnosed it correctly. Soon after, they diagnosed her with dementia.

I was 15 at the time and didn’t know what that was, but it was a heart-breaking moment. I cried, I dropped to the floor and started praying.

In the years that followed, I let myself believe she was improving because the medicine slowed the degeneration, but after a while it was apparent it was no longer effective. By my senior year, she was still talking but in my first year in college she was just putting words together, scrambled.

During that period I took time out of school at LSU to be there for her. My father was in the military so had to be away for long periods and my brother was only 13, 14 so he couldn’t do it on his own. It was a heart-breaking scene, realizing how much this person you love is going downhill health-wise.

But it also made me more appreciative of the woman who brought me into this world and everything she taught me.

In December 2018, her condition deteriorated and my father was told by doctors she was at the last stages of life. Despite that, we thought she would last longer. She was still walking, smiling, the day before she died, which goes to show what a strong person she was.

I remember my Dad putting her in bed and I was walking back to my room, but as I went by I had this gut feeling to go into my parents’ room. I gave her a kiss on the forehead and told her “I love you,” then I went to practice, after which I went to get coffee with my friend.

That was when I got a phone call from my Dad telling me she had passed away.

It was strange. I don’t know if it was God, an angel, but something at that time told me to go into the room and tell her I loved her.

Her passing hit everyone hard. It took a long, long time for me to accept.

It was strange, but something that helped me come to terms with it was the pandemic. With no competitions and a lot more time on my hands, I started to write my life story – For the Man Who Walks Tall – and I applied to the NCAA to gain another year of eligibility, given the time out I had taken to help care for my mother. As part of that process I had to show them my mother’s death certificate, something I’d never looked at before, and that helped me face up to reality, as hard as it was.

Arthur Price III

I often think back on what she taught me, and the biggest lesson was the value of hard work. She prided herself on hard work.

My mother and I have the same smile, the same attitude, and while we do love people we don’t take any foolishness. Those traits we shared ensure she will always be a part of me.

How would I describe her? She was a mother, a prototypical mother, and it’s a weird feeling now that she’s gone, an imbalance among your parents.

There’s things my father could understand about me that my Mom couldn’t and vice versa, and when I lost my Mom I lost that emotional, empathetic person I could connect with.

It took a long time, but in recent months I’ve learned to accept that she’s no longer here. But I know she’ll be watching my progress, and I hope to make her proud every time I step on the track.

I’m now a seventh-year senior at LSU and, after tearing my hamstring last year, I now feel like a bird with a new wind under it. I really do feel like this is my year.

I’m excited for this season, and for what lies ahead.

And I know that, somewhere, so too is my Mom.

Photography: LSU Athletics

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