Wife continues husband’s culinary legacy after tragic death

By Ethan Horton

Friday, Oct. 8, 2021

Lauren Erickson decided she was going to keep her husband, Beau Bennett, alive until Friday. All she wanted was to stay with him a little bit longer.

He lay almost lifeless in an ICU bed, four days after suffering a major brain hemorrhage that separated the two halves of his brain.

Even if they were able to save him, the doctors said her husband would “never be Beau again.”

This was uncharacteristic for both of them — Beau was lifeless when he was usually boisterous, and Lauren was finally realizing he wouldn’t come back. 

He’d been arrested, gone to a rehabilitation center and to the emergency room. But he always came back.

Lauren didn’t even realize at the time that Friday, Oct. 8, 2021 — the day Beau died — was their 10th wedding anniversary.

Now, she had to be the wife that kept everything together.


Beau was working as a sauté chef at 411 West in Chapel Hill. Lauren was working as a hostess there, but she never saw Beau. He was always behind a wall of pots and pans.

But he could see her.

One night, after her shift ended, Lauren joined the rest of the staff in an alley beside the building — their place to escape from the noise and relax. Beau, with a Carolina blue bandana wrapped around his head, sat in the alley on an old wooden fence.

“Hey, I’m Beau. What’s your name?”

It was his name that drew Lauren in. Oh, and the bandana. She was a huge Poison fan, and his resemblance to lead singer Bret Michaels was undeniable.

From then on, they took things slow. Sometimes, even four years into their obvious relationship, Beau tried to jokingly tell friends that he and Lauren weren’t official.

Everyone knew they were, Lauren said. 

They were best friends. He was her confidant, her everything.


Everything Beau did was loud, Lauren said. Outrageous, even.

He spoke loud, his laugh was loud, and his feet stomped everywhere he went. He did what he wanted.

Beau wasn’t satisfied being a sauté chef. His personality was too big to be contained in the back of the restaurant. He wanted to be the star of the show.

In 2008, he founded Beau Catering, providing simple Southern food with a twist. He started out with just a cardboard box full of pots and pans and a Honda Accord. No staff, no kitchen.

Somehow, he managed to get a few clients, and he gathered family and friends for catering staff.

“It was beyond bootstraps,” Lauren said. “It was pure ignorance.”

The signature dish — the crab cakes — wasn’t the main attraction for Beau Catering, though.

Beau came out from the kitchen and announced the night’s menu to guests before every event — charisma overflowing, blue bandana still wrapped around his head.

For one wedding, the planner marked out time in the itinerary for “The Beau Show,” and the shtick stuck.

March 2020

After sitting at home during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the catering business completely halted in its tracks. Lauren and Beau were tired of doing nothing.

Luckily, an opportunity fell into their laps.

Carrboro United, a pandemic-era food initiative, started in March 2020 and helped bring more than $1 million back to the community.

Beau Catering signed up and they were busier than ever.

“We went from thinking we were going to… do yoga and stretch and chill in the yard to being very busy without any help,” Lauren said.

Lauren, who hadn’t been involved in the business much pre-pandemic, was thrust into the middle of it all.

She was cooking meals, handing them out and helping run the more practical side of the business, while Beau was off doing whatever Beau wanted to do.

Monday, Oct. 4, 2021

When Lauren walked in the front door after a work trip to Greensboro, she could hear Beau’s breathing from the other side of the house. He was loud, but not usually this loud.

Every single light in the house was out.

Confused, she walked to the back to check on him. For a second, she thought he was just asleep.

He was on the floor, unconscious and struggling to breathe. His phone was on the floor next to him. And he wasn’t waking up.

Beau’s health was notoriously outrageous, just like him, and Lauren had a lot of experience with her own dad’s constant health problems. She calmly packed Beau’s go-bag and headed to the hospital. She didn’t even bring anything of her own. 

If Beau made it through jumping off of a pier at Atlantic Beach or falling in a rocky stream, he’d make it through this, Lauren thought. 

No, she knew.

She’d been through the emergency room wasteland many times so she knew the procedure. Usually, it took a while for the doctors to come and talk to the family — but not this time.

The moment she walked in, a doctor pulled her into a dark, barren conference room.

“I knew at that moment, I knew it was not good,” she said.

She was going to miss him so much — she’d only have her flip book of memories.

The blue bandana. The apple box. The pier. The wedding. The fights. The loud steps. The dog house moments, both ways. The deep conversations that he would make you have with him. The Wendy’s trips that became adventures. The family beach trip they’d taken just the week before. The times he would miss meetings to drive around and have conversations with random people on the street. The smile. The laugh.


Pictures of Beau in his blue bandana hang on the walls of Piedmont Food Processing Center, where Beau Catering is now housed. There are signs of his larger-than-life presence everywhere.

One of Beau’s hires, Katie Hopkins, is now the head chef and general manager. She wears a bandana at work, and has a blue one on the shelf next to her desk.

Lauren, who now owns a financial advising firm, is more involved with Beau Catering thanks to her COVID experience. She said Katie runs the place with much less emotion than Beau did — in some ways, for the better. With staffing turnovers, things have changed.

“There’s a lot of energy that Beau brought that, in theory, I have,” she said. “But it’s hard to have to bring it in a manufactured way when you feel so sad. When you lose your light, it’s hard to fake it. I can see that starting to come back with the team.”

On the chain-link door to a newly acquired storage space is a sign for Beau Catering. In the top left corner of the sign, there’s a note written in orange highlighter:

“You are missed.”

Edited by Courtney Hicks and Halsey Ziglar

From refugee to restaurateur: Med Deli owner creates community

By Kate Carroll

 “The older you get, the more you remember”

A crowd gathered in anticipation under the olive trees outside the Rafedya refugee camp in the West Bank.

Seven-year-old Jamil Kadoura watched from the outskirts with his mother. It was 1967, and the Israeli-Arab war had forced Kadoura’s family out of their home in Jerusalem. 

In their makeshift blanket-tent, Kadoura and his mother strategized over how to get their hands on a bag of food from the upcoming United Nations supply drop-off. 

Kadoura’s mother sent him into the crowd as the sounds of tires approached.

When the van doors slid open, chaos commenced. While bags of food flew through the air, Kadoura found himself underneath a stampede. 

“Hey, get away! There’s a child on the ground!” an older man in the crowd shouted.

He pulled Kadoura out from the trampling while the rest of the crowd continued. 

“It’s funny, the older you get, the more you remember your childhood,” the now 62-year-old Kadoura said. “You’ll realize that later in life.” 

Twelve chairs, six tables

 He reminisced from a table in the Chapel Hill location of his restaurant, Mediterranean Deli and Catering, while his employees prepared for a busy lunch service. The locals just call the place ‘Med Deli.’

There’s still food flying, but today it’s bags of pita for a catering order. There are still vans, but Kadoura owns them — nine of them, to be exact. 

The Arab-Israeli war ebbed throughout Kadoura’s childhood. He attended United Nations refugee schools in the West Bank and Israel-occupied Jerusalem before deciding to travel to the U.S. after high school to continue his education.

At 18 years old, Kadoura landed in Minneapolis, M.N.; he had a nephew living there. 

It was early December, and from the plane, Kadoura could see that a heavy blanket of snow covered the ground. 

“I look out the window,” Kadoura said. “And I said ‘oh, you are kidding. I’m not coming to live here.’” 

He was wearing a T-shirt. 

Kadoura enrolled in the Minnesota School of Business and worked in hospitality to pay for school. After several promotions, he decided not to finish school and instead invested his time in the food and beverage industry. 

A promotion brought him to Durham, N.C., where he worked as a food and beverage director for several hotels — the highest position in the game.

His friends warned him about the South for its conservatism and prejudice. 

“I just make myself not see it,” Kadoura said. “Because if you see it, you keep thinking about it, you don’t go anywhere in life.”

After meeting his wife, Angela, and settling into the area, Kadoura was ready to run his own business.

In 1992, with $16,000 of starter money, Kadoura opened the first Med Deli on West Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. It had 12 chairs, six tables and one six-foot deli case. 

“Everything that the business made, I put it back in the business,” Kadoura said. 

Now, Med Deli has a booming catering business and three restaurant locations with many more tables, chairs, and deli cases. Kadoura said he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support he found in Chapel Hill. 

“I call on the community, the community comes”

 “I started getting to know the community,” he said. “I can honestly tell you, this is one of the greatest communities. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, and I don’t want to raise my kids anywhere else.”

As soon as Kadoura started seeing success at Med Deli, he knew it was time to give back. 

“I think that living in the refugee camp has a lot to do with it — with all my old memories of people running to save the poor people with catastrophic problems,” Kadoura said. “I think it has something to do with the people who helped me before, because automatically, you want to give, too.”

In addition to supporting local charities and student groups, Kadoura and his team have been organizing larger fundraisers for refugees and crisis relief for years now. Most recently, Med Deli hosted a fundraiser following the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. 

“I call on the community, the community comes,” Kadoura said. “People trust us, and people value us, and people just love us, and we love them. So whenever I do a fundraiser, they just swarm the place.” 

The one-day fundraiser raised $30,000 for those affected by the earthquakes.

“He said, ‘I’m donating all of the sales. A hundred percent of the sales for the whole day,’” Catering director Liz Coughlin said. “I mean, literally, he didn’t even think about it five minutes before it came out.”

Before Kadoura hires a new employee, he always gives them the same advice. 

“Don’t work here because you want to stay here the rest of your life.” 

Many of Kadoura’s employees are also immigrants. He hopes that the community at Med Deli will enable them to build a stronger future for themselves.

“Our employees are paid well, but they need more than that,” Kadoura said. “They need opportunities in life. They need a coach that can advise them and show them the way.”

For Kadoura, that means signing a 10-year lease to help his chef of 14 years open his own restaurant.

It also means hiring a homeless man who came in for meals and welcoming him into his own home. 

It means setting up meetings with a Spanish-speaking realtor to help long-time employees to buy a home of their own.

“That, I think, comes from an individual themselves, which is me, myself,” he said. “It doesn’t come from being a business, it comes from you as a person.”

He shares his spirit of generosity with his employees, including his 24-year-old daughter Ambara, who is learning the ropes of the business after graduating college. 

“It’s always important to just give,” Ambara Kadoura said. “I really believe that’s the biggest thing. I swear to God, he instilled that in me and my siblings. And you know, it’s always gotten us so far.” 

At 62, Jamil Kadoura is still working every day, but he’s happy to take a backseat to his younger employees. 

“They all kill me now,” he said. “I go to the back there and they go ‘Patrón, get out of the way!’ Like, I’m too slow for them.”

Kadoura got up from the table while employees carrying trays of hummus and tzatziki paraded out to a catering van. 

Before returning to work, Kadoura had one request.

“Before you leave, I want to get you some lunch,” he said. “And make sure you don’t leave without it.”

Edited by Mattie Collins and Katie Lin


How Camille Claudel shaped thousands of sculptors, including her own family


A dark bronze sculpture of a nude woman falling forward with outstretched arms sits in front of a white backdrop.
One 1905 cast of Camille Claudel’s “L’Implorante” is housed at the Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The cast used to sit in the home Claudel’s descendant and fellow sculptor, Calyxte Campe. (Photo courtesy of the Turner Carroll Gallery)

By Ira Wilder

Calyxte Campe began his artistic career as a painter, learning what he called “the old techniques” in the Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence, Italy. He had been painting at the studio for three or four years when his instructor learned of his famous ancestor, a sculptor rather than a painter. 

“He said, ‘Well, if you don’t want to sculpt, then leave my studio now,” Calyxte said. 

Now, Campe is following in the footsteps of his great-great aunt, Camille Claudel. 

He started sculpting under the Studio’s roof immediately after his instructor’s ultimatum, though the school had no sculpture department.

The first time he touched wet clay, he was hooked immediately, drawn to the freedom that the material’s malleability offered. He soon opened the Studio’s sculpture department and for several years taught the art form that his ancestor was known for. 

Though he never met Claudel, her work surrounded him his entire life. As a young boy, Calyxte’s hands danced across the patina of her original sculptures, pieces now guarded by museum security guards around the world. Her artistic presence influenced him in ways he still doesn’t understand. Though he inherited her natural talent, he is not chasing her legacy nor is he trying to outdo her. 

“If I had her name, that would be really a lot to carry,” Calyxte said. “But not having that, I think, is quite a blessing.” 

Nearly a hundred years ago, Claudel sculpted her works in a studio near the Campe family’s reclusive chateau, nestled in the hills of France. Two of her works remained in the chateau until 2020, sheltered by direct lineage and untouched by the international art market.  

Now, the two sculptures wait in the Turner Carroll Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for their debut at the Art Institute of Chicago in October 2023 and the Getty Museum in February 2024. The sculptures’ upcoming sale is just one chapter of the Campe family’s illustrious heritage, one molded by the hands of its artist ancestor.

Claudel destroyed most of her work, but now, her great-nephews, Calyxte and his brother Sylvester, are picking up the pieces, helping to rebuild her legacy while forging their own creative journeys. 

Claudel was the pupil-turned-lover of legendary sculptor Auguste Rodin, a name that has overshadowed her legacy. 

Claudel’s story was once a quiet French legend, but through media representations and art exhibitions over the past 50 years, her story has become a global anthem for feminist art historians. 

Upon recognizing her talent, Claudel’s family moved to Paris in 1881, eager for her to learn at the private Acade’mie Colarossi, as the renowned Acade’mie des Beaux-Arts did not accept women at the time. 

Rodin and Claudel met when she was a 19-year-old student and he a 43-year-old artist. As a sculptor, Rodin’s work was more widely known, but most do not know Claudel’s hands sculpted the finer extremities on many of Rodin’s pieces — including his tour de force “The Gates of Hell.” 

“In that time, you must remember, it’s the worst time for a woman to be a sculptor, an artist, and it was all so man-orientated,” Campe said. 

Early in the 20th century, French artists made their names and their money from public commissions, of which Rodin had many while Claudel had none. Once, Claudel was a finalist for one of these commissions, and Rodin was on the approval committee. He voted against her because he believed her work depicted him in an embarrassing light. 

Rodin was in a long-term relationship with another woman, Rose Beuret. Despite Beuret, Claudel and Rodin signed a contract that the two of them would marry. Once it became clear to Claudel that Rodin had no plans to leave Beuret, she grew angry, drank often, and shattered wine bottles on her walls. 

“This was regarded as insanity. Nowadays, I would regard it as female power,” art dealer Tonya Turner Carroll said.

Claudel lived in a world of misogynistic and religious absolutism. Her anger was seen as female hysteria and treated as such. She spent her last thirty years, rarely visited, in an asylum, where she died in 1943. Her bones now rest in the asylum’s mass grave.

Calyxte’s brother Sylvester took another creative path: filmmaking. 

He worked with filmmaker Murat Eyuboglu and writer William deBuys on the 2016 eco-documentary “The Colorado,” a film shown in museums across the country. Because of its success, the pair teamed up again for an upcoming documentary on the Amazon River, whose surrounding forests endure devastating wildfires almost annually. 

When the project ran out of funding, though, Sylvester proposed a solution that crossed borders and brokering conventions. 

He offered the team some stake in Claudel’s “L’Implorante” and “Chienne Rongeant Son Os,” the two sculptures that the Campe brothers cherished in their home as children. 

To sell them, the team needed an art dealer. deBuys knew one: Tonya Turner Carroll, a friend with a mutual alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill. 

Turner Carroll and her husband opened the Turner Carroll Gallery in 1991. The Gallery primarily highlights artists from marginalized communities. Tonya, as a historian, specializes in female artists and considers herself a scholar on Claudel. 

Now, the couple, with the trust of Claudel’s descendants, await their largest sale yet with the  “L’Implorante.”

The “L’Implorante,” a 1905 bronze cast, is one that many consider to be Claudel’s greatest work. The Gallery expects the sculpture to go for at least $4 million if purchased before its October debut and at least $6.5 million later.

Five casts were commissioned by Claudel’s art dealer, Eugène Blot. One was bought by Claudel’s brother, Paul, and remained in the family’s homestead until 2020, when it was moved to the Turner Carroll Gallery. The other four now rest in museums and private collections across the world. 

At the Campe family’s invitation, Turner Carroll and her husband, Michael, flew to France to see the sculptures for the first time. She knew it was a milestone, personally and professionally. 

“I felt like I was in the presence of the most pivotal work of art history,” she said. “It was the masterwork of the greatest woman sculptor up to that time.”  

When the Carrolls walked through the Campe house for the first time, Tonya almost could not tell the difference between Claudel and her great-great nephew’s work. 

“It was almost like he had absorbed her artistic touch by growing up with her work and touching it, even though he never met her in person,” she said.

The Carrolls completely immersed themselves into Claudel’s story, visiting the asylum she died in, closely befriending her descendants and ensuring their actions were beneficial to her legacy. 

It took the couple a year to get the sculptures out of the country legally. Now, it’s the only “L’Implorante” cast of its size in the United States; a smaller one is held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Turner Carroll’s “L’Implorante” is accompanied by a bronze titled “Chienne Rongeant Son Os” (Dog Gnawing Her Bone). The “Chienne” was cast from an original Claudel mold in 2002 by Calyxte Campe himself. He is Claudel’s sole remaining descendant with sculpting experience.

The “Chienne” mold that Calyxte grew up around and worked with is one of few remaining Claudel molds that she did not destroy. 

Today, less than a hundred of Claudel’s works remain. As Claudel broke away from Rodin to escape his shadow and his snare, she destroyed most of her own works out of spite. 

“Camille was suffocated by societal expectations for women, but her craft was where she was free — and then that was stolen from her,” Emily Smither said. Smither has been an intern at the Gallery for several months, working closely on the distribution and advertising of Claudel’s pieces. 

For aspiring art historians like Smither, Claudel’s story is an important one, reflective of blooming conversations in the art world about cultural value in relation to the artist. 

“How do we reconcile with a great artist like Rodin but admit the wrongdoings? What about the thousands of other women who don’t have as much evidence of abuse?” she said.

Claudel’s story is also a crucial piece to understanding the art world as a whole. 

“It’s pivotal, in terms of understanding how the art world works, how the role of women in the arts works, how the economics of the art world works,” Michael Carroll said. 

Curators from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Getty Museum traveled together to Santa Fe to see the L’Implorante and decided it would be the centerpiece of an upcoming dual exhibition: “Camille Claudel: Revolt against Nature.” The exhibition’s title is a double entendré on the piece’s hopeful assistance to the Amazon and Claudel’s contemporary rebellion against the constraints of womanhood. 

Calyxte said he hopes the pieces will soon have a permanent home in a public museum, where Claudel’s work can be admired for its exquisite emotion and her story can be lauded among other artists of her time.

The filmmaking team knows that their documentary is unlikely to save the Amazon, but the film and the sculptures represent a new type of exchange in the art world — a business model centered around social justice, one that Smither is hopeful will be more common in years to come. 

“Sometimes art can make people think, especially to see about issues in ways they never would have otherwise. And, sometimes art can only bear witness to things that are happening out in the world. But either way, its role is vital,” deBuys said. 

For Tonya Turner Carroll, working with Claudel’s pieces is not just another day on the job — it’s part of an ongoing Claudel renaissance, a celebration of an artist who defied the expectations of her gender and her time. 

Edited by Will Christensen and Nathan Wellish

‘Nothing but blues’: Jean Weston lives as mother, musician

By Mason Atwell

It had been years.

Jean Weston positioned her blue aluminum walker next to her, pulled out the bench and took a seat. Running her fingers over the keys, tracing the hills and valleys of the sharps and flats, she began to play.

“These are the blues, nothing but blues,” she sang to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “The Birth of the Blues.” “Oh, they say some people long ago were searching for a different tune, one that they could croon as only they can.”

Her wrinkled hands flew over the keys with grace, and the black Essex grand piano abided as her marionette of melody. She closed her eyes and matched the orchestral inflections and rhythm, making known that it was far from her first rodeo.

 “They nursed it, then they rehearsed it and they sent out that news that the Southland, they gave birth to the blues,” she harmonized in decrescendo.

 In Weston’s 93 years on Earth, she has loved, lost and learned.

Discovering passion in Peoria

“There’s a saying that goes, ‘If it plays in Peoria, it will play anywhere,’” Weston reminisced in talking about her hometown in rural Illinois. 

Weston grew up in a musical household as one of three children. With her vocalist mother and musical father, Weston and her siblings found a similar passion at young ages. When festivities occurred in the Westons’ family room of their middle-class home, four-year-old Jean Weston played the piano.

Weston played at every willing venue and church, taught her younger sister music and found time for herself. Weston’s passion also afforded her a music scholarship to attend Michigan State University.

In the spring of 1948, she graduated and accepted a job directing orchestral groups for a high school in Pontiac, Michigan, where she lived with a group of girls nearby.

“I moved in there and the parties started, of course,” she chuckled. 

Combining two loves

One particular guest, Richard ‘Dick’ Weston, made a party-crashing appearance at one of their cottage’s summertime shindigs on Fisher Lake. Traveling in a posse known as the “General Motors guys,” Richard and Jean Weston met that night. After Richard Weston’s incessant asking, they began dating. 

“We were engaged after two and a half months and got married the next June,” Jean Weston said smiling. “Love of my life.” 

Shortly after they married in 1952, the couple moved to Bloomfield Township in Oakland County, Michigan, where Richard Weston oversaw General Motors Co. sales in the Great Lakes region.

Here, Jean Weston found the Opera House Restaurant in Grosse Pointe. Alongside her piano-playing accompanist, she honed her passion for singing operas and musicals for the evening dinner crowd once her husband returned from work.

“He was my best audience,” Jean Weston said when thinking about her husband’s love for her restaurant performances. 

 A few years later, Richard Weston earned a promotion to GM sales manager for the East Coast. The couple and their three children — Richard, Brent and Laura — found a home in Long Island for Richard Weston’s work.

“I just couldn’t get enough of that,” Jean Weston said. “I got into that city as much as I could.”

Finding time for music

While her love for music persisted, her ability to spend time on it dwindled as she raised their children. Richard Weston refused to let anything get in the way.

 “As he advanced through his career, I would get a sitter and he would get home in time to take over from them and I would go perform,” she said smiling.

After living in New York for 11 years, the Weston family returned to Detroit for Richard Weston’s job. However, Richard Weston soon joined the Cold War. While most families stayed stateside, Jean Weston and her children followed Richard Weston to Germany where they lived with a local family for two years.

“They had two children and they were just lovely,” Jean Weston said. “We would sing and play the piano together all the time.”

Before their time in Germany concluded, Jean and Richard Weston traveled throughout nine European countries — an adventure they always dreamed of taking together. 

Settling down

The Weston family ultimately returned to Detroit and the children left for college. Jean Weston resumed teaching and performing and Richard Weston worked until he retired at 65. They then relocated to the Treyburn Subdivision in Durham, North Carolina, an area Richard Weston loved during his travels for GM. 

The empty nesters remained here until Richard Weston died in 2012. 

“I remember he had been in the bed quite a bit as he was getting frailer,” Jean Weston explained. “And one day he decided he just wanted to get up. And that surprised me because he had been in bed for a while. And so he just started walking very quickly, walked out of the bedroom, and suddenly he collapsed, he went down.”

Jean Weston called an in-home assistant for help getting her husband back in bed. 

“He was in bed for some time after that, and just passed away,” Jean Weston said.

Return to solitude

Since that time, Jean Weston relocated to Azalea Estates Gracious Retirement Living as a grandmother to nine.

“They don’t visit all that often with Laura being on the West Coast and the others’ busy lives,” Jean Weston said, looking down at her hands. 

Jean Weston reads, occasionally sings and frequently reminisces.

When asked about the moments she could go back and relive, she simply responded, “All the really happy times I spent with my husband.”

While she no longer wears them, her wedding rings are a memento safely kept with her middle son Brent – the rings that Richard Weston let her pick out all those years ago. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve worn them,” she said. “But the diamond is an emerald cut, it’s beautiful.”

“I’ve often thought the next time I see Brent, I’ll tell him that I’d like to wear my rings again before I die,” Jean Weston said contently.

Even in her jubilance and relatively independent lifestyle, Jean Weston experiences the weariness and transitions of old age.

“Her cognitive ability and memory has been slowly declining in addition to her mobility,” assisted living staff Wendy Daigle said. 

The piano seldom gets the company from Jean Weston that it used to. 

The final note

There is a method to her madness, to-live-by dispositions and outlooks on life that she obtained along the way. 

“She appreciates the good things in life,” Johnny, activity coordinator of Azalea Estates Gracious Retirement Living, said. “She is a real treat to be around.”

Through hardship, humor and humility, Jean Weston learned to “meet each opportunity with enthusiasm, because there’s something to glean from each opportunity I feel. I’ve just tried to be open to do that, and also have a grounding in a strong faith.”

Jean Weston takes pride in the broad scope of faith she received from her fundamentalist childhood church, Episcopalian husband and experience singing in various churches.

Her open mind and acceptance shed light on the person she is.

Her advice is “finding the best of everyone you encounter and trying to relate to this human experience as we go along.”

“Realizing that everyone has something to offer and knowing that you do as well,” Jean Weston said smiling.

Edited by Claire Burch and JinAh Springer

Stories from home: UNC students grapple with ongoing war in Ukraine

By Lorelai Sykes

One year later, another spring settles over Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Dogwood trees reveal their pink and white blooms as baby birds and squirrels dart out between the parade of bare legs stretching out after winter. Spring usually brings change and rebirth, but there are still some darker things that manage to stick around. 

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022. It has been a year full of displacement, worries and fear. Now headlines about the war fade into the background and give the facade that things are getting better.

Even across oceans, students in Chapel Hill with ties to Ukraine and Russia are still navigating the lasting effects of the war.

Protecting her son: Liubov Palchak

Liubov Palchak is a graduate student studying pharmaceutical sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill, and her story of how she came to North Carolina is far from anything she ever expected for herself.

From the easternmost parts of the country, Palchak was born in Bakhmut. It is a small town located in the Donetsk Oblast region of Ukraine. Her family lived across the Donetsk Oblast region, so pointing to any one area as “home” is tricky.

“I was like every child in the world, I had a perfect childhood,” Palchak said. “My native city was not too big and everybody knew each other, and neighbors were friendly. I moved back to Bakhmut when my son was born, it is easier with little kids to be in small towns. I think a lot of good things happened in Bakhmut.”

While pursuing her undergraduate degree, she spent a few years moving around Ukraine. After attending Donetsk National Medical University, she entered the workforce at the same university, tending to medical needs in multiple cities.

With some inspiration from her parents working in chemistry and microbiology, Palchak said that in 11th grade, she knew she wanted to pursue medicine. She said that if she could improve people’s quality of life, she had to act on it.

But today, her hometown of Bakhmut and the Donetsk region as a whole is one of the most occupied areas of Ukraine. Palchak has lived with the threat of Russian forces since 2014, but now, it is significantly worse. Last year, she made the final, gut-wrenching decision to flee the country.

She knew she had to protect herself and her son Misha.

“After the first bomb dropped in Kramatorsk airport, I realized I did not have a nearby safety place,” Palchak said. “I read a lot of papers that said that Russia could try again. I realized that if it started I must find some type of safety.”

On March 2, 2022, Palchak made her way to immigration services.

She did not just leave behind her home and place of work: She also left behind her husband, who works to distribute electricity to citizens; her father, who is still teaching chemistry but online after his school was destroyed; and many more family members.

Still, even after all of this, she is quick to bring up again how grateful she is to be in North Carolina. Through a smile, she said Misha is learning English better than she is and that he is so lucky to be at school in person rather than online like children still in Ukraine.

With a two-year visa inching closer to expiration, Palchak does not know what will come next. But for now, she and Misha are safe. 

Summers at home: Lily Fishman

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine is hardly a new phenomenon. Attacks and the threat of invasion have steadily increased throughout the early 2010s. For U.S. citizens with family abroad, the option of international travel and family visitation has slowly fizzled out. 

Lily Fishman is an undergraduate student at UNC-CH. Her father is from Moscow, Russia, while her mother is from Zarichne, Ukraine. Throughout her childhood, she spent summers visiting her family in Russia and Ukraine, fond memories that she holds a little tighter today.

“We would stay at a family friend’s house in very rural Ukraine,” Fishman said. “There was a mountain up there, and we would go and pick blackberries and cherries up there.”

While laughing, she said that after picking berries on the mountainside, she would go into town with her little brother under the care of an older friend, who was rather reluctant to leave his video game, to go into the candy stores with just a handful of hryvnia, the Ukrainian equivalent to a United States cent.

For Fishman, it helped that the constant buzz of reporting about the war has died down. Most efforts on campus — like signed Ukrainian flags on display — have not offered her much solace. Rather, aid efforts to support those directly affected in Ukraine bring some peace of mind.

Fishman managed a fundraiser last semester that brought her some peace by sending over medical supplies such as bandages and ointments that were in demand during the start of the war.

 Phone calls to Ukraine: Mykhailo “Misha” Shvets

As the conflict wears on, students on campus carry an insurmountable weight with them daily.

Mykhailo “Misha” Shvets is a doctoral student and graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Computer Science. He waved and pointed to his phone, mumbling a quick goodbye to his mother on the other line.

“Before the war, I used to only call her about once a week for maybe 30 minutes,” Shvets said. “But now we talk multiple times a week, maybe for hours at a time.” 

Shvets is from the city of Dnipro, where his mother still resides today. His father lives in Kyiv with his two young children. In a piece written by Shvets in May of last year, he described the hurt he feels daily.

“Every day since Feb. 24 for me, as for all Ukrainians, has been filled with endless pain watching as cities are destroyed and civilians tortured, raped and murdered.” In another excerpt, he wrote, “My father made dangerous trips every day to find a place with some poor cell phone connection to get news and send a few texts like:

“They fired mortars over our heads, now enemy tanks are firing a little from the side — loud explosions. About 200 meters from us.”

Shvets came to the U.S. to pursue his doctoral degree. Before the war, he walked into Sitterson Hall with his head down and buried in his work, making his way straight to his office. Shvets said there are not many students in the program from Europe, especially not Ukraine.

Now, a year later, he said he has found a community of Ukrainians in North Carolina. While the circumstances are far from ideal, he is now connecting with his culture more than ever before.

“On Feb. 24, 2023, we had a vigil again and hundreds of people showed up,” Shvets said. “I’m looking around the crowd at a few hundred people and I pretty much know everyone now.”

Shvets said that he understands that it is now his job to deliver a message to the people in the U.S. and to facilitate conversations about the conflict abroad. 

Shvets remembers Ukraine fondly. He recounted camping trips with his father in the mountains of Crimea and the hikes down to the beaches of the Black Sea, and how his mother still sends him care packages stuffed with candies from his childhood.

In one of his lengthy phone calls, he told her that he was wearing a Vyshyvanka, a traditional Ukrainian shirt, every day until the occupation was over. The one he wore today was a delicate linen fabric embroidered with careful shades of blue stitching across his chest.

One year later, the pain and loss of the war still sits heavy in the humid spring air. Despite the loss that Ukrainians have suffered, another spring brings with it strength and resilience.

Edited by Valeria Cloës and Anna Neil.

Local puppeteers pull strings to find common ground in ‘Bench’


Four people crouch over a small green puppet stage on a dimly lit set in the Swain Hall Black Box Theatre. They are each wearing a black sweatshirt and black pants as they each command one of the dolls on the stage.
Puppeteer Jeghetto sets the stage with other crew members at the Swain Hall Black Box Theatre. The show, titled “The Bench,” debuted on March 3rd and 4th.

By Reagan Allen

In a dimly lit theater in Swain Hall, two puppets are illuminated on a small stage. Their names: Joyce and Willy. 

The footlong puppets sit side by side on a miniature bench that rests on a plot of green grass. There is shrubbery on each side and to the left a palm tree with a small sign that says, “Live Well.” 

Joyce is an elderly white woman with purple glasses and a head of gray hair. Willy, an elderly Black man with a red robe and a walker. 

Instead of hand puppets and silly songs meant for children, this bunraku-style puppet show takes on a much more serious tone.

Handling heavy topics

In the show, Joyce and Willy meet by chance at a nursing home and have meaningful conversations about race, gender, and life. They explore racism, sexism, and how these topics impact society and those living in it. 

Joyce’s seemingly clueless view about race in America is similar to Willy’s unknowing attitude towards sexism. Together they teach each other different perspectives about the world around them and those in it. 

In emphasizing the importance of empathy and trying to understand the struggles others face, his puppet show questions identity and hardship as the two look back on events in their life. 

The show indicates the cultural differences between Joyce and Willy — such as their favorite meals and early lives — all with an underlying tone of humor.

A dynamic duo

Tori Ralston is a co-creator of the show along with Tarish Pipkins, a.k.a. Jeghetto. Ralston teaches puppetry and interdisciplinary arts at North Carolina State University. She attended UNC-CH for undergraduate and then went on to University of Minnesota, Minneapolis to get a MFA in sculpture. 

Joyce, Ralston’s puppet in the show, is based on a compilation of people that have inspired her. This includes different friends and a particular aunt that holds a special place in her heart.  

Jeghetto worked as a barber for more than 20 years until he moved to North Carolina to kick-start his career in puppetry. 

Black puppets are uncommon; Black puppeteers even more so. Jeghetto wants to emphasize the importance of Black puppeteers working with Black puppets. 

The two puppeteers have collaborated before and have a long history together. 

Jeghetto started by doing street performances with his puppets and, after a few years, started working with Paperhand Puppet Intervention. The organization uses a variety of styles of puppets to create performances that promote social change.

Puppets? For real?

As a child, Jeghetto knew he was an artist. In the late 90s, he became known for his poetry and live paintings in a Pittsburgh-based Black art cohort, the BridgeSpotters Collective. Jeghetto also rapped, sculpted, and considered himself a spoken word artist. 

“I found my niche because everyone paints, everyone raps, everyone does poetry. I’m a Black dude, and they were like, ‘Puppets man, for real?’” Jeghetto said.

Willy, the puppet Jeghetto works with in this show, is based on memories of his late uncle Leroy. His uncle was a huge influence on his young life, teaching him to paint houses — which kindled his artistic desires. 

“You can get a lot and way more of a message through puppetry. There’s no bias with an inanimate object versus a person; you can always find something to critique about a human,” Jeghetto said. 

‘The Bench: a puppet show about everything and nothing’ is a part of The Process Series, a string of new works and productions in the performing arts at UNC. The show took place on March 3rd and 4th. 

A timely reunion 

The Series was created by Joseph Megel, the former director of Carolina Performing Arts. It gives artists a chance to put their new work out for an audience. 

Ralston and Megel have collaborated on other projects in the past, so choosing this program was easy. 

“I believe in the artists I’ve worked with in the past,” Megel said. 

Not only has he worked with Ralston but also Trevor Johnson, one of the voice actors in this production. Johnson, who has known Megel for over 10 years, voices the puppet Willy. 

Johnson went to UNC in the early 90s. His first acting production was in the very same building he performs in now: Swain Hall’s Black Box Theatre. He considers acting both a career and a hobby. 

Johnson often works with UNC Performing Arts, and it is his third time working with puppets. He considers this an unordinary acting challenge because staying in character while controlling and voicing puppets can be difficult.

Much like the puppets themselves, this melting pot of actors, puppeteers, and stagehands came together from different backgrounds to create a unique and heartwarming performance.  

“These are two different people from really different places, but we’re looking for them to find common ground. And that’s probably what we wish everyone would walk away with, to find common ground,” Ralston said.

Edited by Fleet Wilson and Christian Ciocoiu

‘You’re on Your Own, Kid’: Taylor Swift fans struggle for Eras Tour tickets

By Isabella Reilly

On the morning of Nov. 15, 2022, lifelong Taylor Swift fan Emma McElroy sat at her kitchen table at 9:30 a.m. Bright-eyed and glued to her computer screen, she patiently waited to join the Verified Fan presale for Swift’s upcoming tour — the first concert the singer has headlined since 2018.  

At 9:41 a.m, she nervously texted her friend Jayne Willard. 

“Are you in the waiting room?” 

“Yes,” Willard replied. “I’m very scared.”

But by 10:33 a.m., McElroy sent another text, this time excited. 

“I got five lower bowl tickets for April 28 in Atlanta!” 

“Still 2,000 plus people in front of me,” Willard replied at 10:35 a.m.  

And at 11:21 a.m., Willard sent two sad face emojis with a message that read, “I haven’t moved in over 40 minutes.”

As a long-time fan of the singer herself, Willard said the cost didn’t matter. She had to see Swift live. 

Still, she didn’t think she’d have to bear with a 6-hour, slow-moving wait in Ticketmaster’s virtual queue to get what she wanted. 

“Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve”

Willard was one of millions of fans to experience significant wait times, site interaction issues and exorbitant additional fees during Swift’s Ticketmaster presale. Fans and scalpers competed for a seat to one of the tour’s 52 U.S. show dates. Twenty-six concert hopefuls have since filed suit against the ticketing company, claiming it engaged in anticompetitive and fraudulent conduct. 

“I’m not going to make excuses for anyone because we asked them, multiple times, if they could handle this kind of demand and we were assured they could,” Swift said in an Instagram statement. “It’s truly amazing 2.4 million people got tickets, but it really pisses me off that a lot of them feel like they went through several bear attacks to get them.” 

McElroy said as soon as she began moving in the queue, she knew she was ahead of others in line. She said she couldn’t believe how quickly she was able to get her hands on tickets.

Willard, who was competing for tickets to Swift’s third show in Tampa, said she entered the presale intending to buy two seats, assuming someone would want to go with her.

But after finally getting through to ticket selection, Willard recalls clicking on a single seat to view the price before immediately being sent to checkout. 

“I had one seat in my cart and thought, ‘I’m not going to risk this,’” she said. “I was just grateful to get out with something.” 

Despite the friends’ vastly different experiences, Willard and McElroy were some of the lucky ones. The ticket battle left many fans, such as Alexa Mazloff, empty-handed.   

After a 4-hour wait in the queue, Mazloff said she thought she could rejoin the presale line the following day and purchase one of the remaining tickets to Swift’s first Tampa show. Though she didn’t think her selection would be as vast, she trusted that if she logged on early enough the next morning, she would be fine.

She later learned she wasn’t.

To address what Ticketmaster called a “historic demand for tickets,” the company postponed the exclusive presale for Capital One cardholders scheduled for the afternoon of Nov. 15 to the following day. The general public sale, scheduled for Nov. 18, was canceled later that week. 

Jennifer Kinder, a lawyer representing Swift fans and founding attorney at the Dallas-based firm Kinder Law PLLC, said she had never seen a situation like Swift’s recent ticket sales before.

The Ticketmaster issues made national news, even attracting the attention of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, which held a case hearing on the matter on Jan. 24.  

“Ticketmaster ought to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m the problem, it’s me,’” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said during the three-hour hearing, quoting a lyric from Swift’s new single “Anti-Hero.”

Compounding an already trying customer experience, Kinder said verified fan tickets were sold for higher prices than initially negotiated, allowing the company to increase its existing additional fees. 

“As long as they can get scalpers and bots to buy a bunch of tickets, then they are ensured that the ticket will be sold two to three more times,” Kinder added. “And each time there is a new fee, they benefit.” 

Mazloff said that though she’s still on the hunt for a pair of tickets, most available for resale are out of her price range. She recalled an offer of one set of tickets priced at $1,000 each. 

“I’m sorry, but that is out of budget,” she said. “For me and for most people.”

“The Great War”

Kinder said she stands behind her decision to take on the suit, regardless of the criticism she’s faced.

She hopes her efforts will help prevent the further implementation of industry monopolies like the one fans claim Ticketmaster currently holds. Ticketmaster merged with Live Nation Entertainment, an events promoter and venue operator, in 2010. As a result, the company now holds an estimated 70% share of the market for ticketing and live events. 

Since Kinder Law began its “Take Down Ticketmaster” campaign in November, the firm has encouraged fans of other major artists interested in fundamental change to document their ticketing experiences, adding, “consumers need to stand up for themselves.” 

The first federal court hearing for the Swift fans’ lawsuit against the ticketing giant will be held on March 27. Kinder said the firm is prepared for what will likely be a “big fight.”

As for Willard, she isn’t letting anything get in the way of seeing Swift in Tampa. 

A first-year graduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, she even moved her thesis defense, initially due by April 16, so it wouldn’t conflict with her show date. The committee hearing her defense agreed to do so on April 7, a scheduled university holiday.

With her one ticket secured, she’ll attend Swift’s concert solo, hoping the show will be akin to a religious experience. 

“Nothing is going to stop me now,” she said.


Edited by Allie Kelly and Guillermo Molero

‘Forever chemicals’ in Fayetteville water sparks renewed concern

By Taylor Barnhill

About three years ago, someone knocked on Theresa Striblin’s door and asked to test her water. 

Striblin, who lives just outside of Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, assumed this testing was part of regular maintenance, so she let them inside. And, thankfully, her water tested clean. 

But Striblin — like so many others in her community — wasn’t initially told why this testing was happening, nor about the toxic chemicals that had so quickly inundated her community. It was much later, she said, when residents read news articles that brought the contamination to light.

“It was concerning,” she said. “I mean, you bathe in the water. You cook with it.”

Chemours LLC, a chemical manufacturer with a plant in Fayetteville, has faced several legal battles in the last six years related to releasing various chemicals from its Fayetteville Works plant.

Researchers are still uncovering the extent of toxic pollution in Fayetteville and beyond, stretching at least as far as Wilmington, N.C. Yet, Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility doesn’t want to slow production; instead, in an air permit application from October 2022, they outlined plans to expand. 

The chemicals of concern are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, otherwise known as PFAS. They are used to manufacture anything from nonstick cookware and rain jackets to cosmetics and cleaning products — and they’re known to stick around.

PFAS decompose slowly, earning the moniker of ‘forever chemicals.’ Because of this, environmental groups are concerned about how they can build up in the bodies of humans and animals over time. 

Their persistence also means they can travel. So far, researchers have measured PFAS in every continent except Antarctica, most recently discovering them in the blood of polar bears.

Scientists still aren’t exactly sure about the extent of PFAS’ effects on human health. However, they have been linked to a host of problems: reproductive issues, developmental delays, various cancers and immune harm all correlate with high levels of PFAS exposure, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A 2017 article by the Wilmington Star-News put PFAS in the public eye. The piece reported that GenX, a form of PFAS manufactured by Fayetteville Works, had contaminated over 300,000 people’s drinking water in the Cape Fear Region since local municipalities could not filter it out. 

But pollutants weren’t limited to the river. As PFAS were released into the air surrounding the facility, they contaminated rainwater — which later polluted rivers and seeped into wells all across the state’s southeast.

A string of legal actions followed this discovery, culminating in a November 2018 Consent Order signed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Chemours LLC. The order required that Fayetteville Works adopt strict control measures to prevent PFAS from entering the environment.

And, on paper, the order has been followed. 

Chemours boasts that PFAS emissions in released air and water have gone down by over 99%. The company reports that thermal air filters, installed in December 2019, are close to completely effective. 

Still, this figure is somewhat ambiguous. EPA air testing isn’t yet “subject to the Federal rulemaking process,” according to its website — and independent researchers are discovering new kinds of PFAS in the area. 

 A recent study led by postdoctoral researcher Jiaqi Zhou at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health collected air samples near Fayetteville Works. It spanned six months, from September 2019 to March 2020.  

What the team discovered, Zhou said, was that overall airborne PFAS concentrations in the space around Chemours’ facility were much higher on average than quantities measured in other parts of North Carolina. This indicated that the facility was a likely source for such contamination, especially for newly-discovered types of PFAS. 

Zhou’s study was one of the first to measure both emerging and legacy PFAS. Emerging PFAS, she said, are those which could not be measured before, as technology was not yet advanced enough — an implication that could complicate control and reporting measures for toxic substances.

Zhou’s team kept seeing PFAS at high levels even after thermal filters were installed — likely because the factory’s testing couldn’t detect every type of PFAS it released. And, as the fitting ‘forever chemical’ name implies, any pollution pumped out before December 2019 likely still lingers in the community’s atmosphere.

“The interesting point is that what we found in the air actually matches what was found in the (Cape Fear) River,” Zhou said — a further indicator that the area’s air pollution resulted from Chemours’ manufacturing.  

Jean Zhuang, a staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said that agencies are still in the process of discovering the extent of air pollution, as it is often hard to measure. Zhuang has worked to litigate action against PFAS-polluting facilities since 2017.

“Chemours has to keep testing further and further out from their facility as long as they’re continuing to find contamination,” she said. “And they just haven’t found the end of it.”

Why do they want to grow? 

Zhuang said a large concern of members of the SELC is that Fayetteville Works is not only continuing to manufacture PFAS — it’s that they want to get bigger. 

Chemours’ Fayetteville Works facility applied for an expansion permit last year. The expansion would allow increased production of fluoropolymer monomers — a chemical building block for PFAS-related substances. 

 Though fluoropolymers and known-harmful PFAS are not identical, they have similar structures; like PFAS, they are a very persistent ‘forever chemical.’ And, as recent research explains, their use and production correlate with exposure to harmful PFAS.  

Chemours’ permit application says that emissions increases will be negligible. Activists and residents, however, are not satisfied.

“(Fayetteville Works) shouldn’t be allowed to expand when they’ve contaminated probably close to 100 square miles of southeastern North Carolina with PFAS,” Zhuang said. “And that contamination is only continuing. They still haven’t installed alternative drinking water supplies for everybody.” 

Zhuang said that the SELC’s focus is to encourage local agencies to more heavily impose the guidelines in the federal Clean Water Act, which has not, she said, been enforced broadly with relation to PFAS.  

“Our goal throughout the whole region is to make sure that these chemicals get controlled and that they don’t continue to expose our communities to toxic contamination,” she said.  

Where are we now?  

For many North Carolinians, including Striblin, uncertainty about safety prevails.  

“(Water testing) was like three years ago,” Striblin said. “We don’t know what it is now.”

Over 1,000 residents of Pender County, down the Cape Fear River from the Chemours facility, qualify for — and have not yet received — alternative water sources due to contamination in their own wells. Many residents of Fayetteville are still reliant on bottled water to meet their needs. 

Yet, testing measures for wells across the state only measure 12 types of PFAS, less than the 22 types detected by Zhou’s team and far short of the 54 distinct types found in the Cape Fear River so far.

And despite the banner message on Chemours’ Fayetteville Works website, which reiterates a commitment “to taking a leadership role in environmental stewardship,” activists are not persuaded. Fayetteville Works’ permit application remains incomplete.

“This company really doesn’t understand what they’ve done to this community,” Zhuang said. 

Edited by Preston Fore and Lauren Fichten

Despite four surgeries, UNC women’s lacrosse player stays ‘spunky and fun’

By Lindsey Ware 

Blue and white confetti surrounded Katie Thompson as she cried and smiled so hard that it gave her a headache. Chills ran up her arms in a moment that, even then, she knew would forever be ingrained in her memory.

UNC women’s lacrosse completed an undefeated 2022 season with a slim 12-11 national championship win over Boston College, and junior midfielder Thompson got to be a part of it.

“Be where your feet are,” Thompson reminded herself. North Carolina head coach Jenny Levy told the team this often to encourage them to be in the moment, and this was a moment that Thompson wanted to be fully present for.

Thompson said the national championship win was the happiest day of her life and got 2022 tattooed in Roman numerals on her ribs to commemorate the accomplishment. Everyone on the team was dedicated to the greater good that postseason. The championship title was not only the cherry on top of a perfect season, but it was also well-deserved.

Thompson didn’t appear in the national championship game due to constant knee pain that originated from an ACL tear. Thompson’s original injury has continued to haunt her and has forced her to hang up her cleats earlier than she ever expected or hoped.

A tattoo in black Roman numerals spelling out "MMXXII" signifying the year “2022” is shown on Katie Thompson’s ribs.
Thompson shows off the tattoo on her ribs, which serves as a reminder of the national championship win.

‘No, I’m Going to Carolina’

Thompson was raised in Ellicott City, Maryland, the youngest of three daughters. Her oldest sister, Tori, played lacrosse at the University of Connecticut.

At first, Thompson was not a fan of lacrosse and preferred her time on the soccer field, but she was determined to learn to love the sport so that she could be like her big sister.

She eventually learned to love it and had a plan of where she wanted to play from day one — North Carolina.

“I told my coach I wanted to go to Carolina, and she said, ‘They usually recruit tall, blonde people, so pick somewhere else,” Thompson said. “I was like, ‘No, I’m going to Carolina.’”

Thompson, a brunette, stands at a mere 5’2 — or 5’3 in her cleats. Her club coach Tierney Ahearn called North Carolina “a reach school” but was proven wrong in the weeks leading up to Thompson’s first year of high school.

It was Thompson’s lucky day when she found a $5 bill on the walk back to her car after a club lacrosse tournament. While admiring her luck, she received a call from Ahearn, despite having seen her just moments earlier.

Ahearn told her that UNC coaches were at the game she had just played and would be in contact soon. By October, Thompson had committed to North Carolina before ever playing a high school lacrosse game or even trying out for the high school team.

Two and a half years later, tragedy struck.

Katie Thompson is looking at Dorrance Field in Chapel Hill wearing her blue UNC lacrosse jersey while holding her pair of blue and neon yellow Nike cleats over her shoulder.
Thompson carries her cleats over her shoulder as she looks out over Dorrance Field. Her time on the field has been limited due to injuries.

‘I would come home and just cry’

It was May 14, 2018, Thompson’s 17th birthday and the saddest day of her life. She was playing attacker in a quarterfinal lacrosse game for Marriotts Ridge High School. The junior was thriving in her birthday performance, racking up three goals. She was told to defend an opponent, as she was the only one who could keep up with her speed. Thompson jogged over, slipped, and tore her ACL.

“It happened,” she called out in between her screams.

Up to 200,000 Americans tear their ACL each year, many while playing a sport. In a life centered around athletics, Thompson wasn’t shocked that it had happened to her.

After surgery and a year of recovery, Thompson was cleared to return to lacrosse soon before arriving at UNC, but she didn’t stay healthy long.

During a midseason practice in her first year of college, Thompson jumped to grab a poorly-thrown ball, and when she landed, her knee did not feel right. Ignoring the feeling, she turned around to keep running but realized she couldn’t.

The surgeon who repaired Thompson’s ACL assured her that even though she had now torn her PCL and ACL and would need another surgery, it would strengthen her knee, so there was no need to worry.

Thompson’s freshman year was cut short due to the pandemic, but it awarded her time to heal and an extra year of athletic eligibility at UNC.

“When I found out I had a COVID year, I was like, ‘I’m staying,’” Thompson said. “We have an extra year of college. That’s everyone’s dream.”

Now, her mentality has changed. Thompson will graduate this May instead of remaining at North Carolina for the extra year of eligibility. She has no choice, she said. She physically can’t play another year. In fact, she might not physically be able to play this year.

Thompson’s second surgery resulted in minimal pain during her sophomore year which elevated to daily pain junior year.

“I would come home from practice and just cry a lot of times because I was in so much pain,” Thompson said. “I was scared to acknowledge it.”

By the fall of 2022, Thompson could no longer straighten her leg due to a golf ball-sized cyst in her knee. In a third surgery, she got the cyst removed and was determined to be ready for the spring season.

Then, after winter break, something popped while she was walking. An MRI confirmed that Thompson had popped off cartilage in her knee, which caused her bones to hit together.

She would need a fourth surgery.

Deep scars from multiple knee injuries can be seen on the knee of UNC women's lacrosse player Katie Thompson.
Thompson’s surgery scars are evident on her knee, which is swollen more often than not. Up to 200,000 Americans tear their ACL each year, many while playing a sport.

‘There’s more to life than lacrosse’

Thompson has yet to get the fourth surgery and has yet to play this season as a result of the injury. Despite her lack of playing time, Thompson’s impact on her team does not go unnoticed.

Her teammates describe her as spunky and fun, even on hard rehab days. It speaks volumes to them that she continues to show up every day and motivate her team. Through her injury, Thompson has taught her teammates to find an identity outside of lacrosse but also to value what lacrosse has given them.

“You have to realize that the lacrosse aspect might not be there anymore, but she’s taught me that’s not what everything’s about and that’s not your identity,” teammate Elizabeth Hillman said. “She’s the farthest thing from weak. She’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”

Thompson, Levy, and UNC women’s lacrosse athletic trainer Shannon Murphy have discussed the possibility of Thompson medically retiring this year. In her nine years as an athletic trainer, Murphy has had to help at least one athlete a year make the decision to retire due to repeated injury.

Murphy has aided Thompson in her physical and mental healing as they work to determine what her life will look like after lacrosse. Thompson might medically retire midseason and returning for her extra year of eligibility is already completely off the table, but it has not been an easy decision.

“I was thinking I’m not gonna watch myself, I’m not gonna prepare for film anymore, I’m not gonna play,” Thompson said. “It kind of broke my heart.”

Even with the heartbreak of leaving her athletic career behind, Thompson knows that she does not want to spend the rest of her life in pain. She hopes to be able to play lacrosse with her future children and go on walks without pain.

For both her physical and mental health, Thompson cannot return for her extra year of eligibility. However, she secretly holds out hope that she will be able to hit the field this season to say farewell to the sport before retiring and getting a fourth surgery.

“It’s made me realize that there’s more to life than lacrosse, but it’s definitely been hard,” Thompson said. “I take it day by day and search for the positive parts and try to be where my feet are.”

Katie Thompson is in the UNC women’s lacrosse locker room amongst a row of white lockers smiling and laughing during a conversation with her teammate Bailey Horne, who is unseen in the photo.
Thompson laughs during a conversation with teammate Bailey Horne. Thompson’s teammates describe her as spunky and fun, even on hard rehab days.

Edited by Noah Monroe and Harrison Clark