Iowa athletics community supports legend Lisa Brinkmeyer as she battles brain cancer

·6 min read

Whether it’s her lifelong friends, former teammates or simply mere acquaintances, nearly everyone who’s encountered Lisa Brinkmeyer comes away with the same glowing assessment.

Kind.

Genuine.

Welcoming.

Someone who can handle anything and everything thrown her way.

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Brinkmeyer’s name has circulated through Iowa athletics circles for most of her life — first as a basketball standout at Hubbard-Radcliffe High School and Drake University, later as the assistant director for the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union where Brinkmeyer is a Hall of Fame member.

For decades, she has been a lifeline for many Iowa athletes and their families.  Now, that support is coming full circle as Brinkmeyer pushes through the toughest fight of her life.

Diagnosed with brain cancer earlier this spring, Brinkmeyer has spent the months since on a turbulent journey that's included grim updates and several jarring turns.

Her trademark bubbling, confident personality has been tested more than ever. The weight of the situation could cause even the strongest person to crumble.

But not Brinkmeyer. Not with her unwavering attitude inspiring so many around her. Not with her expanded circle pouring in love and encouragement at every turn.

"We’re not talking about the end game. We’re focusing on what we can do right now," said Iowa women's basketball associate head coach Jan Jensen, who recruited Brinkmeyer to Drake and has been a friend ever since. "Lisa is working so hard right now. It’s not easy. She does get fatigued, but she gets a lot of energy from people. She can really lighten the mood when everyone else might be a little bit sad. She’ll tell a story or crack a joke that’s still vintage Lisa.

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"She’s just focusing on the positives and working really hard to help everybody else do the same. It’s really inspirational. It’s pretty awesome to watch and is really true to who she is. None of it's surprising. She’s got so many people who are praying for her, supporting her, keeping her uplifted. And she feels that energy. I know that keeps her going."

Lisa Brinkmeyer with her husband and two children.
Lisa Brinkmeyer with her husband and two children.

While each day offers up a new challenge in its own way, nothing better illustrates the remarkable fight Brinkmeyer counters with than what happened just a few weeks ago.

After an intense stretch that included emergency brain surgery, which added occupational therapy on top of the radiation, it seemed unlikely Brinkmeyer would be able attend one of her favorite events — Hubbard Days — held in her beloved hometown. The three-day celebration was scheduled for June 10-12, featuring everything from golf competitions to tractor pulls and car shows.

In theory, it was the perfect distraction. But would Brinkmeyer — an avid golfer on top of all her other athletic accomplishments — really be up for anything like that? Her husband Ted thought maybe a few putts and that's it.

Not even close. Brinkmeyer played nine holes of golf that day, wowing the close friends and family members who've seen her up close for decades. It was an inspiring performance amid weeks with few bright spots.    

"Her physical therapist was like, ‘Are you kidding me?'" Jensen said. "That’s who she is. She just does not let herself get down." 

Jodi Jansen has watched the same attitude for nearly half a century. The two have been best friends since their adolescent years in Hubbard. They talk on the phone daily at precisely 8:03 a.m. and are intertwined through countless unforgettable memories over the years.

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There’s still some shock at the situation. But more than anything, Jansen knows if anyone can emerge on the other side of this healthy, it’s Brinkmeyer. That’s why she and so many others are willing to help any way possible.

“It didn’t matter what it was, you were always part of her success,” Jansen said. “And she knows that now it’s our turn — all of her network — to be part of her success again. She trained us very, very well. She trained us how to mentally keep her going. She always made us feel like we were part of her team. That’s why I think there’s so many people now reaching out and wanting to do stuff, just because of the way that she has made us feel part of her success.”

Nicole McBean has a special perspective on exactly that. A former college teammate of Brinkmeyer’s, McBean was the only Black player on the Drake women’s basketball team her first season in 1993.

Understandably, there was some trepidation entering a new environment. But there was Brinkmeyer, up front and welcoming as always, making sure her new teammate felt as comfortable as possible.

“Lisa was just so authentic,” McBean said. “She just truly made me fell like I belonged. And then it wasn’t necessarily spoken as it is now about diversity, inclusion and belonging. That just organically came to her. That was how she was raised and how her family was. They welcomed me on trips to Hubbard with open arms.

“Lisa, she has a heart of gold and the biggest heart ever. She wants everyone to feel included. She and I formed a super quick friendship. She’s one of my best friends I have in this world. A lot of that is just because of who she is.”

Who Brinkmeyer is has allowed everyone around her to feel the same confidence she has that this situation can eventually be hurdled. Who Brinkmeyer is can be traced to why so many people have felt called to assist — whether it be something as grand as the Brink’s Bench t-shirt movement dedicated to helping raise money for the family and brain cancer research, or something as simple as a motivational card or text.

So many have benefitted from knowing Brinkmeyer over the years. It’s only fitting so many return the favor in this dire time of need.

"She’s just woven so deep," said brother Blain Brinkmeyer, “into so many people’s lives.”

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.  

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Support abounds for Iowa athletics legend battling brain cancer