On Nov. 3, Newman University community members came together to celebrate the life of 21-year-old Austin Madubuike.
The beloved Newman University soccer player from Toronto, Canada, suffered an unexplained medical emergency during the soccer team’s travels following a game in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He died eight days later in a hospital in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Following Madubuike’s death, Newman Director of Athletics Joanna Pryor released the following statement: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Austin Madubuike. Our thoughts and prayers remain with his family, teammates and friends at this difficult time. We will miss Austin greatly.”
All are welcome to donate to the GoFundMe, which has been set up to support Madubuike’s family.
Coming together as a community
Madubuike touched the lives of many during his short time at Newman, and it certainly showed at the prayer service held on campus, a lantern release held by the men’s soccer team, as well as the celebration of life ceremony held in the Dugan-Gorges Conference Center.
“Austin brought us laughter, he brought us tears in our laughter, he was a competitor, and he was a fighter,” Men’s Soccer Coach Cliff Brown said during the celebration of life ceremony. “He fought all the way to the end, I guarantee you.”
Brown expressed his gratitude for Newman Athletics, the Newman University School of Education and Social Work, Campus Ministry, Sister Therese Wetta, ASC, and Newman Chaplain Father Adam Grelinger for “stepping in right away and providing the support teammates and other students needed.”
A table at the front of the room contained a display with Madubuike’s favorite foods: Corn Flakes cereal, Powerade, Lay’s Potato Chips and a Domino’s Pizza box to represent Madubuike’s favorite — barbeque pizza. The table also displayed his retired jersey number — 4 — as well as a soccer ball, which players of the men’s soccer team later signed.
Attendees who knew Austin or had stories to share were invited to approach the microphone, share memories and light a candle to be placed at the front of the table.
Student Britney Ma recalled the joys of working with Madubuike as a student worker in the Dugan Library on campus.
“Although we didn’t spend much time together and didn’t know each other for that long, he would call me his best friend every time,” Ma said. “I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was, but he opened his heart up to me and would tell me about all of his passions and what he wanted to do in life. I know that he dreamed to be a professional soccer player.”
She tearfully added, “It’s moments like these where I really believe people come and go into our lives for a special reason, but I really wish he didn’t have to go so soon.”
When Wetta approached the microphone, she shared, “In the providence of God, we never know truly how things work and why they work the way they do.”
A prayer service was held on campus when Madubuike was still under treatment in the Fort Smith hospital. After the prayer service, one of Madubuike’s teammates, Matthew Roberts, visited Wetta’s office.
“Matt was paired with Austin as the returning international student with the new international student this year,” Wetta explained. “When he visited my office, Matt shared with me that he hated road trips. They were always difficult for him.”
As an international pair with a common bond, Madubuike and Roberts roomed together on road trips. For the first time, Roberts started to enjoy road trips because Madubuike made them fun. In Wetta’s words, “Matt talked about Austin having this sense of humor that made road trips a whole different experience this year.”
“Who knew when we paired Matt and Austin that this was going to be a kind of bonding that Matt will remember forever? I very much believe that Austin’s going to be watching over Matt for the rest of his life also because of this. In the providence of God, we have to trust and know that there’s always some reason. It may not be evident at the beginning, but it does become evident with time.”
As a special tribute to Madubuike, Coach Brown shared a heartfelt song on the piano. He re-wrote the words to Ed Sheeran’s song, “Perfect,” and spoke the words as he played softly on the piano.
One of the spoken phrases was, “Austin was a man as strong as anyone we’ve ever known. He shared our goals, our dreams, but now he’s gone home. We are your biggest fans. We have all joined hands in time. We will all be fine. Austin, we’re no longer in the dark. We know you’re in God’s arms.”
Remembering Austin Madubuike
At the end of every practice, the Newman men’s soccer team always says, “We’re a family.”
“In these circumstances, we learned that our family is bigger than just our team,” he said. “The number of people that have come up to me personally and expressed their condolences, the heartfelt cards we’ve received and the support … I cannot express how important and appreciated that’s been.”
After final stories were exchanged, the celebration of life ceremony concluded with a prayer known as “Yiskor,” a Jewish service meaning “remembrance.”
In the rising of the sun and its going down, we remember Austin.
In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter, we remember him.
In the opening of buds and in the warmth of summer, we remember him.
In the rustling of the leaves and the beauty of the autumn, we remember him.
In the beginning of the year and when it ends, we remember him.
When we are weary and in need of strength, we remember him.
When we are lost and sick at heart, we remember him.
When we have joys we yearn to share, we remember him.
So long as we live, he, too, shall live,
For he remains part of us as we remember him.”From “Yiskor,” a Jewish service meaning “remembrance.”
Counseling service available
As the university family continues to mourn the loss of Madubuike, students, faculty and staff are reminded of their campus counseling options.
All employees and students have access to Virtual Care Group, Newman’s telehealth virtual counseling network. VCG is available with unlimited access to undergraduate students at no cost, as well as to graduate students, faculty and staff for a low cost of $25 per semester. Students may also see an in-person counselor on campus through the Runway Learning Center.
Those interested in taking advantage of counseling services on campus may email Director of Student Success Kate Bussell at [email protected].