Defining Family: The Justin Kier story

Published: Jan. 6, 2016 at 5:06 PM EST
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Defining family is not always so straight forward.

For some, it's a mom, a dad, a brother and a sister.

For others, like Spotswood's Justin Kier, the lines are blurred. When he spells family, it starts with an "S."

"When you see all these senior nights. You see these parents out here at every game. It really does hurt sometimes," said Justin. "Not having a father growing up just made me tougher. Maybe used that as motivation, that's what I did."

Justin's story is not found in every locker room. He was seven years old, riding along in the car when his mom, Keley, suffered a heart attack, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down.

"She can't talk, she can't speak or any of that. She can hear, she can see," explained Justin.

"I forget about her sometimes. She's at home and can't talk or anything. It's not like I get up and hey, there's mom. It kind of frustrates me sometimes when I don't realize she's there," continued Justin. "At first it was real hard because we had to put her in a nursing home. Going from living with her to having to travel 30-minutes from where I live to see her, it was a struggle then."

Without a father in the picture, Evelyn Kier, Justin's grandmother, stepped in. She worked job after job trying to support her family.

"I'm just doing what a mother and grandmother should do, taking care of my babies," said Evelyn.

"Grandmas don't grow up thinking they have to take care of another set. Having her there, and be by my side and I know I can count on her is crazy," said Justin. "I probably wouldn't be the person I am today without her."

"Just the character foundation that she's provided for him has been a good example for me and my own children," said Chad Edwards, the Spotswood basketball coach.

As Justin grew, he came to realize it wasn't just his grandma filling in, there was also the man behind the whistle.

"[Coach Edwards] and the coaching staff, and Coach Davis, all of them are my dads. They are the father figures in my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way," explained Justin.

"He's made me a better coach because he taught me how to have fun. Justin has shown me that we can work really hard, and be really committed and still have fun at the same time," said Edwards.

Edwards describes his coaching role as a life mentor. He preaches family and has allowed Justin into his.

"Coach Edwards has really made some sacrifices for Justin. He just loves Justin, he loves him, and I'm just so thankful to him," continued Evelyn.

"My daughter, my son, refer to him as their big brother. The example that he role models for my kids, and the kids in the community is a good thing," said Edwards.

Coach Edwards spends countless hours working with Justin, driving him to basketball camps and AAU games. Helping him become the first player from the Valley in 25 years to receive a Division I basketball scholarship out of high school.

"I think people overstate my role in his success," explained Edwards. "He deserves the most credit, his grandma is close behind."

"I hate that his mom can't see it. You know she'd be thrilled to see that," said Evelyn.

"I went home after I signed and let her know. She, she can smile so she put on a big smile," recalled Justin.

Justin's mom hasn't seen him play in 10 years, but she's a part of each play.

"Every pair of shoes, basketball shoes, I get I put her initials on them just to let me know that I'm doing this for my mom. She's here with me, her name is on my shoes, her name is with me," explained Justin.

Justin's life has challenged the definition of family. But each night, one word across his chest, Spotswood, reminds him that family is more than blood.

"At the end of the day coach would always remind us family fight, but at the end of the day we always love each other and I love those guys to the end," said Justin.