BYU sports medicine director spreads light through music

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The women’s soccer team hurried down to the training room of the Smith Fieldhouse after lifting weights. Weaving through the many athletes receiving care, the players were greeted by ice bags and a warm smile as they walked into the room.

BYU sports medicine director Carolyn Billings is a self-proclaimed “goofball,” and said she runs the training room with the goal of guiding BYU’s athletes through their struggles.

“Carolyn is a busy bee. She is a woman who gets things done,” BYU women’s soccer forward Maddie Lyons said. “I really look up to her because when she walks into a room, she is always smiling, always making people happier.”

Despite her happy personality, Billings has not had an easy life. She was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 9 and has battled with the illness for many years.

“Its been an ongoing thing I’ve had to fight,” Billings said. “I’ve had to deal with different emotions at different times.”

The cancer returned when Billings was in college, and with it came questions and doubts.

“I was freaked out because especially back then, cancer was like a death sentence,” Billings said.

With the trials she had early on, Billings began to doubt her testimony.

“Sometimes in the church, we feel like we shouldn’t doubt, but we should,” Billings said. “Sometimes, we just need to ride those out.”

Billings remained an optimist in the face of her difficulties and had the mindset of a fighter.

“At college age, you still believe you’re indestructible a little bit,” Billings said. “So I was like, ‘I can beat this. I can do this.'”

And she did. But shortly after Billings beat her cancer, tragedy struck again. Three weeks before her wedding, Billings’ fiance was killed by a drunk driver.

“It was kind of one thing after another, and I just went through a period where I’m like, ‘I just don’t know if I buy this gospel stuff. A god is not going to do this,'” she said. “It was so much in such a short period of time, and I got lost.”

Billings said she “played the game”as a BYU student despite losing hope in the gospel. She attended church and kept her ecclesiastical endorsement, but was no longer invested in her faith.

She credits her mother and her music with her miraculous return to her faith.

“(My mom) could sense that I was struggling, even though I didn’t talk to her about it,” Billings said. “So, it was Hilary (Weeks’) first album, and she gave it to me in her sweet sense, saying it was some good music (and) ‘It’ll help you find your way.'”

Billings said she took the CD just to be nice and got rid of it afterward, but the CD found its way back to her.

“Through random circumstances, I played a song,” Billings said. “It was the right song at the right moment for me. It was the Lord speaking directly to me.”

The song was “Be Still,” and the words spoke to the way Billings felt at that time.

“It was that moment that I felt like the Lord was in my life, and it got me back in the gospel,” Billings said.

Her faith helped her get through the return of cancer again and again.

“I think that I was prepared for that time in my life through early trials that helped me to come to know that the Savior was there, and know that I needed to trust him and just keep walking forward,” Billings said.

It wasn’t until years later that Billings had the opportunity to meet the artist whose words spoke to her spirit that day.

Weeks, an LDS singer and songwriter from Utah, wanted to surprise her daughter, a huge fan of BYU All-American soccer star Katie Larkin, with a present she would love. She asked BYU soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood if the team would like to meet her daughter and attend a small concert Hilary Weeks would perform for them.

“I still remember Jennifer calling me to her office and asking, ‘Do you think this is the (real) Hilary Weeks?'” Billings said. “I totally wanted to do it, because I was already a fan.”

Billings went with the team to the Weeks’ house, and she and Weeks became good friends. Throughout the years, this concert for the soccer team has become a tradition.

“Carolyn has been a huge blessing to our whole family,” Weeks said. “She is one of the most generous people I know. She is generous with her time, resources, joy — everything. She is constantly laughing and makes us laugh. She has been a great joy in our lives.”

After their friendship developed, Weeks said she received a letter from Billings telling her about the experience she had and the impact Weeks’ music made in Billings’ life.

“I always hoped that my music would have this kind of impact because that’s always been the goal,” Weeks said. “I feel like there is so much music out there that is just fun and entertaining, and of course I want my music to have that, but … also for when we need to be lifted in our darkest hour.”

Years later, at a time when Billings was helping the Weeks family with medical needs, Billings’ father died.

“My dad was the one who really taught me how to serve,” Billings said. “My commitment when he passed away was to carry on his legacy.”

Around the same time, Weeks gave Billings some CDs to give away. The unique timing led Billings to look for people she could serve. For the next couple of years, she shared CDs with many people to spread light.

During Billings’ most recent battle with cancer, Weeks received emails from three people sharing stories of meeting a mystery woman who gave them a Weeks CD.

“I don’t necessarily question my purpose in life,” Billings said. “But I think those letters were really helpful for me to know that I am doing some work for God, and I’m helping and fulfilling the measure of my creation.”

Billings said she knows she has gone through many trials, but she believes those challenges have only prepared her to help her students and anyone who is struggling.

“I hope I can kind of guide students through, especially when they have injuries,” Billings said. “I’ve been there and I know what it’s like, so it’s easy for me to see it in them and help them manage their feelings and their emotions.”

Whether it’s with laughter, music or an ice pack, Billings works to bless the lives around her.

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