File Photo Former Grayson soccer standout Nikki Rouis, the Gwinnett Goal Club's county player of the year in 2004, died last month after a battle with cancer.
To honor former Grayson soccer player Nikki Rouis, the family has asked that donations be made in her name to the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University or to www.melanomo.org, which supports the fight against melanoma.
Nearing the 16-year mark of working for the Gwinnett Daily Post, I've written about thousands of high school athletes and seen thousands of games.
Some names fade from my memory and many of them stick. Nikki Rouis was one that stuck.
Her unique last name helped, but so did her talent on the soccer field. She starred when Grayson first emerged as a soccer power, winning Gwinnett Goal Club county player of the year honors as a junior when the Rams, in their last season in Class AAA, made the state semifinals.
As with most kids who have appeared in the Daily Post, I assume (and hope) that they grow up and live productive lives. Rouis, with two degrees from Valdosta State, was certainly doing that, happily working for World 50, a management consulting firm.
But cancer, as it does too often, had other plans.
Rouis, after a week of excruciating headaches and nausea, was diagnosed with a golf-ball sized brain tumor that turned out to be stage four metastatic melanoma that quickly attacked her spine as well. She passed away on Jan. 23, only 25 years old, which is when her name stood out to me in the Daily Post's obituaries.
To me, she was the feisty No. 9 in a Grayson green and white soccer uniform. She also was much more, a fun-loving person whose spirit brought smiles to those around her.
"She was a great kid," her father Ron Rouis said this week. "She touched so many people. She loved to laugh. She was one of those people who could laugh at herself. When she did or said something silly, when most people would hope nobody saw or heard that, she would tell you and laugh at herself. Even if you weren't there when it happened, she would tell you later.
"She was a great athlete, but she was a lot more than that."
As a soccer player, Rouis wasn't the biggest kid on the field but she was gritty and determined.
And she did have speed and athletic ability on her side, plus a constant motor that kept the center midfielder darting all over the field.
She was an important player in a growing stage for Grayson soccer, with her 30-goal, 21-assist season as a junior and her contributions as a senior, when the Rams made the jump to Class AAAAA.
"(Rouis) never gave up," said Stacy Kenyon, Rouis' coach at Grayson. "As a player, I wouldn't have wanted to play against Nikki. If she lost the ball, she would come back for it again and again and again. A good way to put it is that she was scrappy. ... She played mostly center midfielder for us because she would just run forever."
Rouis had options to play college soccer, but chose to attend Valdosta State as a regular student. She enjoyed that experience, her father said, and got a jump start on her career with degrees in both marketing and management.
While her competitive soccer career ended years earlier, Rouis still had that fight that's learned from playing a sport. She was ready to fight cancer with all she had. Unfortunately the disease had progressed so far, it didn't allow her that chance to fight.
Amid all the ups and downs between October and January, the good news and the horrible news, Rouis maintained her positive outlook.
"I want everyone to know how brave and inspiring Nikki was through all of this," Rouis' sister, Chrissy Sorrells, said. "She was ready to do whatever it took to fight the cancer. Every time the plan changed for her treatment, she always clapped her hands and said, 'OK, let's do it.' She was so gracious and appreciative.
"Not a single person entered her room during her hospital stays that wasn't greeted with a hug first and then a 'Thank you so much.' ... During the time she was at home after the surgery, she was a miracle to watch recover so fast from such a serious surgery. She considered this a wake-up call and wanted to do so many things once she was better. She kept her humor throughout, that's for sure. She was, and forever will be, one of a kind."
Will Hammock can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.