Julie Westercamp was an inspiration.
Dubuque Wahlert's boys tennis coach and a staple of the Dubuque tennis community died this morning at her Dubuque home surrounded by family after a three-year fight with cancer.
“There’s moments in your life that you’ll always remember, and when I think of the relationship Julie had with the boys and our team, that made it truly special,” said Wahlert assistant coach Eric Lucy. “Julie said many times that those years were some of the most enjoyable years of her life. She had so much fun with those boys. She couldn’t wait to get to practice and couldn’t wait for the meets. Even in the offseason, you could see the excitement and glimmer in her eye.
“She always had that infectious smile and positive attitude and cared more about others. We were all blessed to have her in our lives and should be modeling those same traits in our daily lives.”
Westercamp, 64, made a splash in her first year as coach at Wahlert in 2016, leading the Golden Eagles to a record-tying ninth state championship. In February 2017, she was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer, and friends, family and former students donated more than $45,000 through an online fundraising campaign to help with medical costs.
In October 2017, Westercamp underwent a whipple procedure that helped her overcome her diagnosis. After a one-year hiatus, she returned to her coaching post. In June 2018, she led the Golden Eagles to a record 10th boys tennis state championship.
“I started working with her after freshman year, and after a drill, she pulled me aside and said we had the chance to really do something special,” said Riley Collins, a 2018 Wahlert grad that played under Westercamp and is now a sophomore starring for Loras College. “I really took that to heart because she didn’t even have the job yet. She ended up taking it, and we won it all that year.
“Working at the country club with her, I’d have the 6 a.m. shift and she was out there doing drills and teaching at 6 a.m. the same way she would for a 12 p.m. lesson. I’m definitely a different beast at 6 a.m., and I was always inspired by that.”
Over the past year, Westercamp returned to University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison for chemotherapy treatment, tending to cancer spots on her lungs and liver. However, late last year the doctors informed her there was nothing else they could do, as the cancer had become too aggressive.
Earlier this month, Westercamp traveled to Maryland for screenings at National Institutes of Health and received approval for a trial in which doctors took Westercamp's T cells out of her blood and genetically altered them. They then put the cells back in and hoped those would fight the cancer, but she turned for the worse in recent weeks.
“She was always asking people about them and their family,” Lucy said. "Always interested in others. Coming off the state championship in 2016, we were ready to go in 2017, and that hit everybody hard. But she was just so amazing that entire time. We all said it so many times that if you didn’t know she had cancer, you wouldn’t know she had cancer. She always had a positive attitude and continued to care more about others than herself.
“I just know in my heart that anyone that ever had contact with Julie -- friends, family, students -- that she truly touched their lives.”
In January, Westercamp received the boys tennis 2018-19 Iowa Coach of the Year award from the National Federation of State High School Coaches Association, located in Indianapolis. In October 2018, U.S. Cellular named Westercamp one of its 15 Most Valuable Coaches in the nation, earning the school a $5,000 donation. She recently finished her sixth year as a tennis instructor at Dubuque Golf & Country Club and gave tennis lessons at Alpine Tennis Club in Dubuque for 20 years.
"Julie is such an inspiration," Wahlert assistant coach Aimee Walsh said. "She was close to everyone that knew her and definitely made you feel that way. She had such a vibrant, positive personality that we can all aspire to be like. She has made such an impact -- referring to our impact ball we give out at the end of each of our meets -- in every life she has touched and everyone that has known her. I will miss her terribly and it won’t be the same without her contagious smile, attitude, and personality."
The 1981 Loras College grad taught physical education at Western Dubuque High School from 1981 to 2013, along with coaching sports including softball and volleyball. Her zest for life will not soon be forgotten.
“I knew she was getting bad, so I was able to visit her,” Collins said. “We were all telling stories, and her sister asked her what her favorite part of life was. And she had the most Julie response ever: ‘All of it.’”
Through social media, the TH asked those that knew Westercamp to share their favorite memories:
- Western Dubuque grad/Big Ten Network analyst Shelley Till: "As a freshman on varsity volleyball, I was struggling with my hitting and thus my confidence, and she would stay after practice to help me as long as I wanted. She never belittled and always encouraged. She was the epitome of what a coach should be. I recently saw her and she was upbeat and as always, asked about my kids and how they were doing. Her laugh was infectious. She was an amazing human!"
- Dubuque Senior boys tennis coach Chris Burns: "It has been amazing to not only see the support here for Julie, but from other coaches, high school programs and past and current athletes from elsewhere in our state. Our athletes, especially those who got the experience of knowing and working with Julie, have commented how awesome that show of support has been. The respect and appreciation for who Julie Westercamp was as a person is amazing. The Rams will miss her dearly. Our thoughts go out to the Wahlert team and anyone else who was privileged to know Julie."
- Cascade boys basketball coach Jacob Brindle: "As our PE teacher at WD, she would whip everyone in badminton! Used to come early before school and she'd set the nets up to let us play, and she'd beat us big tough guys 1-on-2. Always smiling and cheery on the way!"
- Dubuque Community Schools Director of Transportation/Cascade assistant girls basketball coach Ernie Bolibaugh: "Knew her for 4 years at WD. Great lady and coach. Tough but always positive and a smile for everyone."
- Tina Sabers Bower: "I met Julie when she was the tennis pro at Alpine, and she quickly became a friend. She pushed me to be a better tennis player, and inspired me to be a better person. You will be missed Julie, and I'll remember your great smile every time I pick up a racquet."
- William Steppan: "She was my gym teacher at West Dubuque in the '90s. She was always positive and encouraging. The world will miss her smile and her laugh."
- Britney Ross: "Molly Sahm, remember when Westy and (Tom) Danner offered our early bird gym class 5 free classes if we ran the 7 mile route Turkey Trot? So we signed up (thinking that was the easy way out) and it was so freaking cold and terrible and we got picked up at like mile 4 and called it a day? Then Westy found out and offered us to run 7 miles on the track while she counted laps or more gym classes to make up for our actions? I took the laps before school and I remember her counting all 28 with me and teaching me a lesson! Now I run marathons for fun. Westy’s passion for life and lessons she taught every WD gym student will live on."
- Lauren Christine: "Was so honored and blessed that she was my mentor teacher while student teaching! Will always remember the passion she had for teaching and the love she had for each student! Learned from the best!"
- Vicky Lindauer: "Westy was an amazing person, teacher and mentor. I had her as a PE teacher at Western Dubuque. Just an awesome person all around. RIP Westy."
- Amy Cottrell Kafer: "Julie bowled in the same league as me for many years. Always smiling and such positivity radiated from her."
Rena Sheehy: "I've known Ms. Westercamp for over 40 years. Not a bad bone in her body. In high school, I was having trouble in my accounting class, close to not passing and would not have graduated. When Mrs. Callahan told me, I was bummed. I went in the gym instead of going to study hall and Westy sat with me. She could tell something was wrong, so as embarrassed as I was, I told her. She hit me on the leg and she says that's great! You can be a 5th year! I didn't want you to leave! Now you can stay another year and take accounting again and be in gym the rest of the day. She called me 5th year every time I saw her. She will be remembered for her laugh and her beautiful smile."
Jessica Rose: "I am extremely saddened to hear that Julie "Westy" Westercamp has passed away. She was one of the few great teachers I had the experience of meeting in high school. She was so supportive and truly cared about everyone. When I say everyone I'm not just talking about the athletes, the gifted, or tennis players. She was one of those rare souls that made everyone feel as if they were special and mattered. This is something that all high school students deserve to feel, but not everyone is that lucky. For me, Westy was a light inside a dark room. While I grew up hating gym class, she made it tolerable and sometimes even a blast, so much so, that I ended up taking an extra gym class just to be with her. She will forever be missed, rest easy."