FORT WAYNE – Liza Clemons didn’t want to hear, “I’m sorry.”
So only tears and a prayer led by the former Elmhurst and Snider girls basketball standout’s Purdue teammate Courtney Moses broke the silence in Clemons’ Fort Wayne living room.
Teammates – Moses, Dee Dee Williams and Torrie Thornton – and assistant coaches – Nadine Morgan, Christy Smith and Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton – bunched together on the furniture.
On Oct. 4, 2013, the day Clemons lost her fiancé, a part of the team grieved with her for two hours before they drove back to West Lafayette at 11 p.m.
It was not the first – or last – time that Clemons, a forward entering her senior season next fall, would need their support. The numerous injuries paled in comparison with the shooting death of Johnny Lee Upshaw outside a Fort Wayne apartment building.
Six months later, still grappling with the biggest of her many obstacles, Clemons, 21, can say, “I’m still here.”
It’s why she has reason to relish tonight’s presentation of the Brady Sports Achievement Award at the Indiana Roof Ballroom in Indianapolis. The award was established by the Methodist Sports Medicine Research and Education Foundation to honor Indiana student-athletes who have overcome injury or hardship.
“I’d like to keep his name going, is the big one for me,” Clemons said. “I’m going to do whatever I need to do to make him smile down and say he’s proud of me.”
Coping is an ongoing process, one filled with fits and starts, good days and bad.
Clemons talks to “Jay” during breakdowns. Daily prayer has gotten her through the roughest hours. That’s a turnabout, because when it happened, Clemons questioned God – a lot.
“I know we’re not supposed to,” she said. “People were telling me, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ I was like, ‘There are things that shouldn’t happen, and I don’t know what the reason is.’ ”
Clemons opened her locker this year to handwritten letters from Moses.
“God is still here,” one read. “He’s with you. If you need Him, call on Him.”
Clemons did, finding her faith strengthened and part of her quest for understanding.
“I still don’t know what that reason is, but I know God will show me,” Clemons said.
She cycled through sorrow, confusion, laughter, regret, even anger.
“I definitely didn’t know who I was angry at,” Clemons said. “I felt like I was angry at myself for not being there for him, for not protecting him. Even though I couldn’t do anything, I felt like I should have tried to do something.”
No arrests have been made in the case, and the investigation remains open, according to Michael Joyner, a spokesman for the Fort Wayne Police Department.
Amid all that, Clemons enjoyed her best season, averaging 9.4 points and 5.5 rebounds with 29 starts.
“I didn’t think I would start at all,” said Clemons, who has battled numerous injuries.
She broke her ankle and foot in middle school and was carried to the car by her mother, Elena Catalan. As a junior at Elmhurst, she suffered a torn labrum in her right shoulder, which was not surgically repaired until after her freshman season at Purdue.
In between, there were times she couldn’t lift her arm, throw a ball or train.
As a sophomore, stomach ulcers had her ducking in and out of the doctor’s office all season. Eating any food caused burning pain, so she practiced on an empty stomach.
This past year, it was a stress fracture in her left leg.
“I feel old,” Clemons said.
She never considered quitting and needed basketball more than ever.
“It was an escape from the real world,” she said. “I was able to go out there and do what he loved seeing me do.”