MOTHER GIVES BUTLER STRENGTH FOR GAMES

Great Britain’s women tip off their Olympic campaign against Australia on Saturday with one supporter in the stands who has more to cheer on than most.

Kim Butler always had her mother Kathy behind her growing up in Washington State, whether it was going to her football games and track meets, or teaming up with her elder sister Julie in high school and then in college as both pursued their hoop dreams.

Her parents had divorced when she was growing up (she qualifies for GB through her father John, who is British) but the family remained tight even when Kim took off on an overseas odyssey, which has included stops in Italy, Spain and Greece.

But when Butler returned home for a mid-season break last December from Italian side Comense, she immediately sensed something was wrong.

Kathy, she learnt, had been diagnosed with cancer, seven years after Julie had beaten Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

There were tears and fears, a whole gamut of emotions. Butler, wanting to be by her mother’s side, was torn.

“It was hard to leave home at Christmas after realising what was going on,” she admits.

Try as she might to concentrate, half-way across the world, it proved futile. “I knew that I needed to focus on what was important at that time,” she reveals. So it was arrivederci Italia and back to Tacoma.

Daughter duties took precedence.

“I was home two and half months and that’s the longest I’ve been home in a long time,” Butler states. “It was great for her, for us. But she knows how much this means to me. She was so supportive. She’s probably the most supportive and selfless Mum out there. She didn’t tell me to stay home. She gave me all her strength.”

Kathy’s treatment proved redemptive. As the prognosis improved, Butler quietly mused whether to head overseas again in order to get ready for the other fight ahead.

Amid the reluctance, both knew that this would be the summer of all summers, an Olympics which would provide both with something to cherish for their lifetimes.

“I knew that I wasn’t done,” Butler confirms. “And I knew that this has been my goal from when I was a child, even if I didn’t realise it then. I wanted to finish off this journey I started with Great Britain six years ago. It feels right that I went through all this and we’ll have this great revelation at the end of it.”

Butler wil be a focal point (wooller.com).

Now the Games are here, the euphoria can be unleashed. Butler arrived at training camp in May fresh from two months in Latvia where she was crowned as the league’s MVP after leading Cesis to a championship.

“I was in a situation where I could excel and gain confidence,” she says. “It was a great decision.”

Great Britain begin their first-ever Olympics full of confidence. They have not just removed themselves from the bracket of no-hopers. They are being whispered as contenders.

It is a remarkable leap, even from 2011 when they reached the second round of EuroBasket Women and came so close to going further.

“The Euros for us was an amazing experience,” the immensely-likeable GB forward, who has returned after missing the start of camp through injury, admits.

“And you always think back to where we’d have been if we’d gotten that Lithuania game, where would we have been against Turkey? If we’d have gotten the Russian game.

“But that’s why we were excited about the (Olympic) draw we got. People are saying it’s a killer bracket.

“But we could have beaten Russia. Australia, Tom is very familiar with and Jo and Nat have played there. We played Canada in June and they’re like us: a hard-working defensive team. “

GB will hope for a long run. For Butler this may be the end of the line. Retirement is under consideration. The travelling, the miles on the court, have taken their toll..

“I’m thinking about retirement,” she declares. I’ll be 30. I have knee issues. But I’ve loved this thing for so long, it would be never say never. I’ll probably be out there next year.”

As we wrap up our chat, she reveals that there is one other reason to ponder a different life. That there will be one other special witness to her accomplishments in London.

Somewhere, improbably, among this crazy life she has led, Butler got engaged, to a former high school sweetheart.

“He’s from my hometown,” she beams with undisguised glee.. “He’s been through dental school and been doing his own thing for the past 12 years. I live a pretty unconventional lifestyle over season I’m only home for a week at Christmas and a month in the summer.

“We’ve always kept in touch. And just within the last year, we’ve rekindled. My huge summer is going to be done in August. He’ll be board certified soon. So we were like: ‘let’s do this.’”

More good cheer. London will be a special time indeed.

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