By Larry Lage
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Lacey Holsworth did not stop smiling until cancer took her life.
At an emotional celebration of her legacy, about 2,500 people saw a great grin pushing up Lacey’s cute cheeks countless times during a moving 43-minute video that ended the memorial ceremony for her at Michigan State on Thursday night.
The 8-year-old girl, whose battle with nerve-cell cancer inspired the Spartans’ basketball program and strangers who followed her story, died April 8 in the arms of her mother and father at their home in nearby St. Johns.
Lacey’s family wanted those attending the event at the Breslin Center – where she cheered on her favorite team – to wear bright colors.
And many did.
Many also wiped away tears, especially when they heard Heather Holsworth’s recorded message about her daughter while pictures of Lacey were shown on video boards.
“I can’t wait to see you again, save a dance for me,” she said at the end of the message.
Back pain while dancing in 2011 led to the discovery of a football-sized tumor that had engulfed Lacey’s kidney. After another tumor wrapped around her spine, her father had to carry her into a hospital on Dec. 28, 2011. Lacey lost feeling below her belly button and couldn’t walk on her own for several months, a long stretch that included the first of many visits from Payne.
The senior forward did not address the crowd live, but did have a recorded message played as part of a video featuring Lacey and people such as former Spartan great and Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
“Lacey, we love you,” Payne said.
Perhaps the most powerful portion of the emotion-filled evening was when Heather Holsworth’s voice was heard in her recorded tribute.
“My heart hurts so much I can barely breathe,” she said.
Holsworth went on to describe her daughter as “shy, yet outgoing,” and a “tomboy with a tutu,” that had “a mixture of grace and grit.”
“Lacey never feared the future because there was nothing to be afraid of,” Holsworth said. “She had hope that never died.
“We will take you in our hearts until we can see you and hold you again.”
Her dance teacher, Heather Reed, later danced to a song – “I Do Believe in Fairies” – that Lacey was scheduled to perform to at a recital. Michigan State student Alex Everard read some of the poems he wrote for and shared with Lacey during the last week of her life. Payne did a “moment of silence dunk” surrounded by teammates.