Latipha Cross’s past fuels her present journey. Her spirit is what Compete Every Day is made of – a heart determined to fight and never give up when all hope seems lost.
Latipha Cross was abandoned by her mom when she was young. Her sister was killed when she was six and the foster parents who raised Latipha abused her. It’s an overwhelming situation that Latipha grew up in, with no means of escape.
Then she found track. Her coaches used to say she ran as if she had this anger inside, and in every race “she took it that anger on the track.”
Latipha ran away from her foster parents as a sophomore in high school, choosing life as homeless versus staying in an abusive situation. She bounced from place to place throughout the city, but always returned to school and track during the day. Latipha was simply trying to survive while still finding a way to do what she loved most – run.
Latipha’s run through life continued to get worse. Her biological father physically and sexually assaulted her. The following day, after not telling anyone about the attack, Latipha ran the meet of her life, blowing away the competition.
“After that, I proved to myself I had strength, I had determination, I could do anything I set my mind to.” Latipha was determined to compete for her life, even if no one else would.
The following year, as a junior, Latipha was diagnosed with melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Her track coach, Calvin Johnson, began to look after Latipha, always reminding her that she is a student first, a track star second. He helped mentor her off the track and train her on the track. It was then that the idea of college and an education beyond high school became more than just a lofty dream – Latipha began to believe it was a possibility.
Eastern Michigan, and more than 50 other schools, came calling after Latipha ran a state record 54.29 in the 400m sprint while still recovering from cancer. That was a great end to her junior year of high school. Then adversity struck again.
Latipha was diagnosed with a second form of cancer at the start of her senior year – lymphoma. You had to wonder if that determined spirit of Latipha would finally break.
But Latipha refused to bend, let alone break.
Her body may be hurting, but her spirit was full of fight. So Latipha continued to run, her mind solely focused on defending her state title in the 400m. It was a race of pure guts and heart, but Latipha lost her first race by 0.3 of a second at that state meet. Her body collapsed as she crossed the finish line, still weary from the cancer bouts.
Eastern Michigan held steady in its commitment to the young runner. Last month, Latipha moved to the university to start her freshman year. The idea that the school is paying for her education to become a social worker just so she’ll run track with the green and white “E” still amazes her.
Homeless. Battled cancer twice. Still standing. What a powerful young woman. And her story is still very young as she continues to compete every day for a life none would have ever expected her to have.
For more on Latipha’s journey, watch the ESPN Outside the Lines feature on her here.