In a poignant ceremony and reception Thursday, New Mexico State University celebrated the life and gifts of its most passionate Aggie football fan, Lori Paulson.
A 2002 and ’04 graduate of the College of Business, Paulson has served an important and meaningful role the past two seasons as honorary team captain, becoming a friend and confidante to players and coaches. During that time, she has also been battling a rare type of pancreatic cancer, and her toughness and character have served as an inspiration to the team.
Paulson and her family have made a $100,000 gift to the NMSU Foundation to establish the Lori J. Paulson Football Excellence Fund, which will directly support players, providing for needs including uniforms, equipment and nutrition. Paulson said she and husband Brandon Young hope the community will continue to build the fund.
Aggie Head Coach Doug Martin said the most valuable gifts Paulson has given the team over the past two years are her love, friendship and unwavering support.
“It’s been a great celebration of a friendship. We started this thinking this would be a great way to motivate Lori, to inspire her, to give her something to fight for through this fight, and it was just the opposite – she inspired us,” Martin said. “She gave us something to fight for.”
Martin related how Paulson would come to practice no matter how bad she felt, and if players were on the sidelines with a bad hamstring or shoulder, they’d hop right back into play.
“They’ll see her coming down that ramp – back out on that field,” he said. “No way they’re standing there like that when she’s coming.”
Martin officially named Paulson and Young’s son, Jeremiah, the team’s new honorary captain. Asked what he’d like to say, Jeremiah shouted: “Beat UTEP!”
Athletics Director Mario Moccia joined others in thanking Paulson and Young for their gift, and gave Paulson her own key to Aggie Memorial Stadium – a place she likes to reflect and enjoy quiet moments.
Through tears, Moccia recalled seeing Paulson on the football field still wearing her hospital bracelet. “Even in the most serious of health issues,” he said, “she’s remained the most positive person I know.”
To honor Paulson’s impact on the football program, the NMSU Board of Regents voted Wednesday to name the team’s meeting room in the Hall of Legends at Aggie Memorial Stadium for Paulson.
Young thanked the team and Aggie family for the impact that their friendship has had on Paulson and their family.
“It gives us something to look forward to,” Young said. “It’s enlarged our family.”
Senior Aggie wide receiver Josh Bowen spoke to Paulson on behalf of the football team.
“Miss Lori, you’ve meant so much to everyone here over the years that you can’t even begin to imagine,” Bowen said. “No words can express what you mean to every player on this team. You just epitomize what strength and courage is all about. You set an example and a standard for everyone in this room to follow.”
Full of jokes and laughter, Paulson told a standing-room-only crowd of gathered friends, players and Aggie family that she had three pieces of advice for her son about being the team captain.
“No. 1: Give more high-fives and more hugs than criticism,” she said. “No. 2: When you think the team doesn’t need you – when they’ve just won, or it’s a bye week – that’s when they need you the most. And No. 3: Remember that when times are tough, that tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
Paulson has used her blog, The Big C in LC, to share her journey from her diagnosis in early 2014 to her decision in December to forgo further treatment and enter hospice care. That same openness and candor was always there for the players she counseled through difficult times.
In a video message, former Aggies center Valerian Ume-Ezeoke shared his reflections with the team members who filled the meeting roomThursday.
“Never has there been a greater fan with her kind of love for you: never based on wins, losses or stats, but based on love and faith in you – and who you are, and who you’ll become,” he said. “Just every so often, God allows us to cross paths with a truly exceptional person who’ll forever change the way we love, think, give and live our lives. You and I have the honor and blessing of calling Lori Paulson that exceptional person.”
Author: Amanda Bradford – NMSU