Hundreds gather to celebrate Maddie Hill

John Joyce
  • Maddie Hill, 19, was remembered Wednesday for her tenacity and good humor while facing cancer.
  • More than 500 people filled the Church of the Open Door to celebrate Maddie's life with her family.
  • Those who knew Hill described her as an athlete, an inspiration and a warrior.

For each tear that fell Wednesday inside the Church of the Open Door, there seemed to be a smile to counter it.

For each sob, there was a laugh.

For each pang of grief, there was the embrace of a fond memory.

Friends, family and fellow cancer survivors from the Dover community and surrounding areas passed through the West Manchester Township church's doors beginning at 10 a.m. to celebrate the life of a young woman whose name over the last 11 years became synonymous with inspiration.

Maddie Hill died in her bed June 29, at her family's home in Dover Township, after her third bout with cancer. She was 19 years old.

Community members gather with family and friends to celebrate the life of Maddie Hill at Church of the Open Door in West Manchester Township, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. Hill died June 29 after fighting her third bout with cancer in 11 years. Dawn J. Sagert photo

"She fought," Pastor Jeremy Drake said.  "And she was always looking forward to what she would do when she recovered. Drake was Maddie's youth pastor and has been the Hill family's neighbor for the past three years.

"She had her first cancer at age 8, and she recovered fully. Five years of remission, and then it came back three years ago," he said.

Dover's Maddie Hill fought to the end

During that span, Maddie touched countless lives, inspiring others with her laughter, her grit and her resilience in the face of adversity most people twice her age could not fathom.

"She inspired more people in her 19 years than I will in my whole lifetime," said Scott Hill, her father.

Scott Hill, his wife, Dawn, and Maddie's younger brother, Travis, received condolences and tearful embraces from the more than 500 people who came to pay their respects Wednesday. Between a viewing held the night before and a candlelight vigil held Friday on the soccer field at Dover Area High School, more than 1,500 people have turned out to remember Maddie and offer their support to the Hills.

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"We are blessed to live in a community with so much support," Scott Hill said, placing a hand on his wife's shoulder.

Dawn Hill said her daughter would have wondered at the amount of people who showed up and said they'd been inspired by her.

"She probably didn't think she was so inspiring. She just thought she was Maddie,"

Community members gather with family and friends to celebrate the life of Maddie Hill at Church of the Open Door in West Manchester Township, Wednesday, July 6, 2016. Hill died June 29 from her third bout with cancer in 11 years. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Memories: Following a final viewing, a celebration of life service was held in the church sanctuary. Former teammates and friends took turns sharing memories of Maddie and what they will hold on to now that she is gone.

Family friend Brett Miller's daughters grew up playing soccer with Maddie. During his comments, he said Maddie was a "warrior" who looked cancer in the eye, and cancer blinked.

He called to mind the speeches made by North Carolina State University head basketball coach Jim Valvano and long-time ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, both of whom battled cancer and were awarded respectively the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and the Jimmy V Perseverance Award — named for Valvano —  at the sports network's annual ESPY awards shortly before their deaths 22 years apart.

Both men inspired millions with their words. Maddie, Miller said, accomplished the same feat locally, albeit on a smaller scale.

"She wasn't probably as big as those two national figures, but Maddie's impact on a local level is significant," he said. "In her community, in her school, among her classmates. And for her to do it at such a young age shows a lot of maturity."

He said anyone who knew Maddie will carry her with them for the rest of their lives.

College: Maddie not only starred on the soccer field, but she excelled in the classroom as well, earning National Honors Society distinction as a graduate of Dover Area High School and working toward a bachelor's degree in kinesiology from Penn State University, where she was enrolled at the York campus.

It was there she worked diligently with Thon —  Penn State's annual dance marathon — to raise money for pediatric  cancer research. Among those remembering Maddie on Wednesday were the friends she made at Thon, including Samantha Glancey, of York.

Possibly the best display of her fierce spirit was the #FightLikeHill slogan that empowered her through her disease. The slogan became a unifying force for her family, friends and community, as it quickly turned into a mantra that could be applied to everyone’s life.

“It’s not just a saying, it’s a way of life. It’s about living a life you’d be proud of,” Glancey said.

She said sharing her memories of Maddie with others who loved her paled in comparison with the gift Maddie gave to her in friendship.

"In such a short time of knowing her I could never repay her for everything she’s done for me, so I told myself I could give her this much. I was so fortunate to be able to be part of a chapter of her story and life, and the least I could give her were a few parting words," she said.

Emily Yinger contributed to this report.

— Reach John Joyce at jjoyce2@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at @JohnJoyceYD.