For the Love of the Game


By Kaylee Fann

“What distinguishes a great player is his presence. When he goes on to the court, his presence dominates the atmosphere” – Bill Russell

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Charismatic. Outgoing. Loving. Talented. Inspiring. Resilient. These are all words that can be used to describe 19 year old Winslow Martin, a basketball player for Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg,

Illinois. Born and raised by a single mother in Centralia, Illinois, Martin fell in love with the game of basketball from a young age.​ ​His older brother and grandfather served as positive role models for a young Martin, teaching him everything he knows about the game. Once he started playing, he practiced with his brother nearly every day. His grandfather was actually a professional player overseas until an injury abruptly ended his career. As he got older, a combination of his long, slender figure and animal-like drive came together to create the perfect storm and he flourished on the court. While his career for Carbondale Community High School was unfortunately cut short, causing people to give up on and doubt him, Martin never lost sight of his dream of pursuing a professional basketball career.

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During his AAU season in 2016, he took notice of a large bulge near his groin and went to his coaches about it, who encouraged him to see the athletic trainers. A few months later, after seeing numerous trainers and doctors, he was diagnosed with stage 2 lymphoma at just 17 years old. He says the diagnosis shocked and frightened him and his friends initially laughed, thinking it was a joke. ​ ​For his loved ones, it felt like jumping off of a cliff. You are falling, falling, falling, trying to understand why him? How this could happen? Then you hit the water and go under, overwhelmed and terrified by the difficult journey that lies ahead. In the beginning, Winslow refused treatment, saying “I don’t want to get sick. If I’m sick, I can’t play basketball and I’d rather die than live without it.” Eventually, after coercion from those around him and reassurance that he had a strong support system, he started a medicine-only treatment plan that did not include chemotherapy, as he wanted to avoid getting sick for as long as possible.

Eventually though, the cancer began to spread and in 2017, shortly after beginning his career as a collegiate athlete, he began to undergo chemotherapy treatments.

While there have been times where he has lost faith, Winslow is motivated not only by his love for basketball, but also his younger siblings and God. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to be able to care for his family, saying “the thought of failing while I have my whole family on my back is something I never want to feel, so I keep pushing”. His goal is to serve as an example for his siblings and other young people, showing them that no matter the obstacles you face, you can overcome them: “My advice to all the young people is to trust God and stay with him. No matter what, pray. That’s all I do and it keeps me strong”. Though he passed away January 7​th​ of last year, Martin still uses his grandfather as a driving force to get through his games, often writing notes in memorium on his wrist tape.

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Basketball, for Winslow, is more than a sport, it is a savior: “Basketball saved me. Growing up, there were always bad crowds and basketball kept me from getting attached to and stuck in those crowds. It has made a way for me to get through life”. Today, Martin serves as an example of why you should always keep fighting. In his freshman season at SIC, he has already broken the school record for the most points earned by a player in a single game. While many praise him for playing through his condition, he is so much more than his illness. He is not a good player for a “sick” person. He is a truly admirable, outstanding athlete. In 8 years, Martin says he sees himself married and starting a family. He also hopes to take his career to the next level and have the opportunity play professionally. His spirit burns like a fire in the night, refusing to be put out by adversity and people telling him what he can and cannot do. While he thinks his friends and family keep him going, he does not fully understand the extent to which everyone around him is motivated by his ambition. I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to know him personally and watch him grow into the young man he is today and I look forward to seeing him continue to grow and thrive in the future.

2 comments

  1. This is a very well written article about his story. It is very inspiring to hear about someone who loves the same game as I do.

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