April 30, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. - Everything looked much the same as it did a year ago, when I sat and talked with Auburn women's golf coach Kim Evans. The lobby of the Jack Key Teaching Facility, home for Auburn's golf teams, had changed little.
But the lady sitting across from me on Tuesday was very different. It wasn't that her once-straight hair was growing back curly. A year ago, Evans vowed she would not give in to the ovarian cancer that threatened her life. And she didn't. She fought with grace and courage that inspired all those who knew her and many who didn't.
On Tuesday, as we talked again, it was about a battle that had been won. Evans is back coaching her team, doing the things she loves to do. They'll be playing next week in an NCAA regional, continuing a remarkable 19-year streak. Evans will be there in Tallahassee. The cancer won't be.
"This is my anniversary week, I call it," Evans said. "This is when I saw the doctor on a Monday night and he called me and told me my blood numbers were up and that I had to have surgery. This is the anniversary of the week it all began. I feel so much better now than I did then. It's unbelievable.
"It's a weird feeling. One, I can't believe it's been a year and how sick I was and now how good I feel. Time will heal the rest of me. I feel real fortunate. You have a sense of accomplishment that you've done something, but you are also smart enough to know you have to stay on top of how you are treating yourself and enjoy what's going on right now."
The road back was hard, often painful, sometimes terrifying. And then there was the tragic death of former Auburn standout, coach and administrator Danielle Downey in an automobile accident last February. It was Downey who stepped forward to keep things going when Evans couldn't.
"It was like a boulder knocking you down," Evans said. "It's just crushed us all. It was a horrible accident, and none of us was ready for that. It was just so sad. It hurt us all."
It was after Downey's accident that Evans, who had been declared cancer-free by doctors, decided she had to return on more of a fulltime basis. Associate head coach Andrew Pratt, hired last July, had the program running smoothly, but Evans wanted to be there for her girls.
"I'm doing everything, but Andrew took this team in July and he's really carried the ball," Evans said. "He's done a great job. I'm here for every practice and I travel with the girls. For me, it's about what he's doing right now. I'm here to help."
Evans loves Auburn, loves everything about it. She's a huge football fan. She knows Auburn history. Doing what is right for Auburn comes naturally for her.
Pratt was the successful head coach at Tulane before moving to Auburn. He's seen enough to know how Evans came through the challenges of the last year.
"She's an amazing woman," Pratt said. "She really is. "It's just her passion about her team and how the kids have rallied around her. We've gone through a lot. She is a special woman. She really is. ... One thing I know about her is she hates to lose. I know that. Whether it's golf or cancer or whatever, she's not going to let anything beat her."
Evans has been changed forever by her experience. On this day, she was talking to her "life coach," who is helping her participate in a study to learn why some women overcome ovarian cancer and others don't. Evan is careful to exercise, to eat right, to do the things doctors have told her for a year she should do.
"I love being back," Evans said. "I tell people I'm on a different side of the moon. I just kind of grin and enjoy wherever I am and whatever is going on."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: