Katie Douglas has known the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” for some time.
Only it’s not the lyrics to Francis Scott Key’s masterwork of nearly 200 years ago the Indiana Fever guard/forward is speaking while the song is being played before the team’s games.
This is Douglas’ time alone with her parents, Ken and Karen, who passed away in 1997 and 2000, respectively, her mother succumbing to breast cancer. Regardless of where the former Perry Meridian standout is playing, the pregame dialogue is meaningful, powerful.
And sadly one-sided.
“Before every game I pray and talk to both of them and thank them for watching over me,” said Douglas, who was only 19 when the woman she called “my best friend” was diagnosed and was a 20-year-old Purdue junior when she died.
“We would talk on the phone ... I don’t know how many times a day,” Douglas said. “Just the daily interaction. I probably got a lot of my morals from my mom. People tell me to this day that she was the sweetest person.”
Karen Douglas didn’t get a chance to witness in person or on television any one of the 428 WNBA games her 6-foot-1 daughter, a savvy southpaw who can do any number of positive things on a basketball court, has thus far played during a career spanning 12 seasons.
She never got to celebrate Katie’s four trips to the WNBA All-Star Game (she was its MVP in 2006), nor her 2005 wedding in Athens, Greece, to sports agent Vasilis Giapalakis.
Or maybe she has.
Douglas swears there are times both on the basketball court and in everyday life when she strongly senses Karen had something to do with the positive outcome. Or Ken.
Or the two of them working in unison.
Douglas at a young age witnessed her mother’s struggle with breast cancer. The mental and physical anguish. The uncertainty. The concern for loved ones soon to be left behind to carry on. And that’s what Douglas, 33, has done, carry on Karen’s fight against the disease.
Whether it’s helping raise money or awareness among women of all ages, Douglas is on board. Playing overseas half of every year limits the number of speaking dates locally, although Douglas has been known to donate some of her WNBA items to various auctions, knowing the proceeds would be channeled to breast cancer research.
As a well-conditioned professional athlete, Douglas is conscientious about her own health without obsessing. Self-exams, mammograms and regular appointments with her physician are vital steps for Douglas in knowing as much about her own body and situation as possible.
A woman can be her own best friend or own worst enemy when it comes to breast cancer prevention. Douglas long ago chose the former. Her late maternal grandmother had the disease, as did a female cousin now living in Phoenix, who, according to Douglas, “is doing fine.”
“Until it hits home, you feel invincible. At least I did,” said Douglas, who tonight leads the Fever into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Connecticut. “Regardless of age, there has to be a self-awareness of your body.
“Some girls are timid and shy, but you have to know your body, what’s normal and what’s abnormal.”
The NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball in recent years have done their part to help make the push toward greater breast cancer awareness in this country. Other professional, college and high school athletics programs have participated in awareness and fund-raising initiatives.
Nowhere, though, is pink as meaningful a color as in the WNBA, a league that goes above and beyond in its efforts to raise money, awareness and spirits. Not only does Douglas notice, she never ceases to be awed by the WNBA’s willingness to put on breast cancer awareness weeks, conduct auctions, whatever it takes.
“Obviously, we’re the most prominent women’s sports league out there, and the WNBA just does a great job of recognizing breast cancer survivors and remembering those who had breast cancer,” Douglas said. “I feel fortunate to be part of it.”