‘Pressing on:’ Dalton State Assistant Coach Using Basketball to Help Him Heal
November 14, 2014
John Redman walked back onto his home court.
It was comforting in a way. The crowd was cheering. The players were warming up. Rage was busy firing up the crowd.
Another Dalton State basketball season was underway.
But it would never be the same for 24-year-old Assistant Coach Redman.
There was an empty seat in the stands. A seat vacated when his fiancée, Brittany Huber, died in a car crash seven months ago. She and Redman were on their way to Mobile, Ala. to get married when they wrecked in the Atlanta area. He spent several weeks in a coma and even more time in physical therapy.
Monday night was the season opener for the Roadrunners, and Tuesday night was the first home game.
“I kept looking where Brittany usually sits,” Redman said Wednesday morning. “I was looking for her like she was coming to the game late and just wasn’t there yet. I kept waiting. Monday night was the first game in almost five years she didn’t attend.”
Facing the reality that Huber wouldn’t be there, was emotionally draining.
“I was almost crying during the first game,” Redman said. “She used to travel with us on the bus. I went home after the game and had no one to talk to.”
Still, returning to basketball was something Redman says he needed to help him deal with his grief. He’s learning how to move forward and is still focused on some day becoming a head basketball coach.
“Everyone deals with grief and emotions differently,” he said. “Being back at work is good for me. When I left the hospital they said I’d probably only feel like working about four hours a day, but I have been working closer to nine. I don’t want to go home and sit in my house by myself.”
Basketball was what the couple had built their life around. It’s what drove their move to Dalton from their hometown of Mobile. And it’s the reason they met almost five years ago.
Redman was coaching Huber’s younger brother, Michael, in basketball. It was a few months into the season until Redman even knew Michael had a sister.
“She walked in with her family,” Redman said. “We got blown out that game because I was watching her. I wasn’t even watching the game. I told Michael to shoot every time he got the ball just to impress her. She was beautiful. She walked in and I was mesmerized by her the whole time.”
Within a month, the two had begun dating. Not long afterward, it was clear to everyone that the two would one day be married. The couple began living together a few years later and had been engaged for almost a year when the wreck happened.
“I know being in the South sometimes living together is looked down on, but those were the best two years of my life,” Redman said.
He insists the two never fought. After a brief pause, he remembers twice Huber became mad at him: once because he wore too many clothes, resulting in too much laundry, and once because he sat on the couch after getting sweaty at practice. Redman recalls those memories lovingly, finding it reassuring that they had a happy few years together.
That happiness is one reason Redman is looking to move on and process his grief in a healthy way. A few weeks ago, Redman woke up and finally felt more like himself. It’s the emotional healing that is the hardest.
“A lot of things are good,” he said. “There’s still some up and down, back and forth. But people say I can’t be happy because of what happened. I’m not living like that way because we were happy. I’m not going to change who I am or how I was living. I’m a happy person, and I think she’d want me to be happy, too. I really do.”
Head Coach Tony Ingle says having Redman back as part of the team so soon has been a blessing, and he believes it’s a miracle.
“The players have been therapeutic for him,” Ingle said. “They’re giving him a purpose and a reason. It keeps his mind off the past. The greatest rewards in life come from those who forget the hurt but remember the lessons. The Bible reminds us that a wise man lives in the future. We’ve got to move on. That’s the way Brittany would want it. And that’s what John is realizing.”
Player Sean Tate echoed Ingle’s thoughts.
“It’s a miracle and a blessing to have him back,” Tate said. “I’ve seen him progressing. That’s been awesome to watch. It’s amazing. With everything he’s been through, it shows he’s a fighter. Whatever obstacle we go through, we can go through anything because he’s shown us that.”
Tate said he remembers Ingle telling him when Redman was fighting for his life. He visited Redman in Atlanta and has seen him grow and heal over the past several months.
“He really seems like he’s the same person,” Tate said. “For him to be coaching today, so soon after all this happened, that’s a testament to God. I can’t wait to see where he is in another year. His faith is stronger. You can really see the transformation he’s gone through. It’s amazing.”
Redman knows the support and prayers from the Dalton and Mobile communities are what have helped him move ahead so quickly.
“I probably had 20 people come up to me at the game Tuesday night and say they’re glad to see me and that they’ve prayed for me,” he said. “It’s crazy. I hope I can do the same for others in my situation.”
He’s appreciative of the encouragement he receives.
But he’s tired of the pity.
Redman says what helps him most is hearing stories of Huber, happy stories, funny stories, stories that reflect the life she lived. Other than that, he wants people to treat him as if nothing tragic has happened in his life.
That’s one reason being back as assistant coach at Dalton State has helped him move on – the players and Ingle don’t look at him with pity or sorrow. They don’t treat him any differently than they did before the wreck. They don’t ask him constantly how he’s doing. That’s not what he wants.
“Feeling sorry for me gets me nowhere,” Redman said. “I’m glad people care for me, but I have to get better on my own, in time. I don’t do interviews for pity. I do them in case hearing my story helps someone else out there.”
Redman doesn’t remember the crash, nor does he want to. Actually, the entire weekend leading up to the wreck is gone. He knows on Saturday he attended the local Dancing with the Stars contest. He’s seen the photos, but he doesn’t remember being there. He knows he went to church on Sunday, but he doesn’t remember attending.
He knows they left Dalton Monday afternoon, headed to Mobile for their wedding the following weekend. He knows they stopped so Huber could buy a dress at her favorite store and get coffee. He knows her last memories on earth were happy, and that’s enough for him.
Redman’s last memory of the two of them together was happy. It was the previous Friday evening, and Coach Ingle and his family hosted a wedding party for the couple. He doesn’t want to change that. He wants to cling to that.
“He’s pressing on,” Ingle said. “He’s in the early stages of persevering. I know better days are ahead.”
Deep down, Redman knows there are better days ahead too. And he’s trying to find them.
For now, he wears his wedding band. He wears Huber’s engagement ring on a chain around his neck, which also has a heart charm engraved with her name and a basketball charm. He said he got the heart because she was buried in a similar necklace. It brings him comfort.
He never saw his bride in her wedding gown, which she was buried in. She had bridal portraits taken, but Redman can’t bring himself to look at them yet. He knows one day he will. He hasn’t looked through his engagement photos. He hasn’t cleaned out her closet. He still makes up the bed the way she liked it. He hasn’t opened his boxes of wedding presents.
And he still searches for his love in the stands at the basketball game.
He knows one day all that will change. He knows one day his grief will begin to ease. And he knows, he will be happy.