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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Six Years after His First Wife and Unborn Daughter Died, ODU Assistant Football Coach Became a Father

By Harry Minium

When he found his wife lifeless on their bathroom floor, Tony Lucas put his angst and fear aside, called 911 and began performing CPR.

He was in shock - his mind would not allow him to accept that she was likely already gone - so he pressed on her chest and breathed air into her lungs in a desperate effort to bring her back to life.

"One of the toughest things I've ever experienced," he said.

When the EMT crew arrived minutes later, they also began efforts to revive her. He remembers thinking, "OK, the professionals are here. We'll get her to the hospital and do whatever we have to do, and things will be OK."

But after 10 minutes, an EMT member told Lucas that Sarita Wright Lucas had been pronounced dead. She was just 33 when she passed on Sept. 21, 2014.

Sarita was six months pregnant and their daughter did not survive.

Lucas, who was an assistant football coach with the University of Delaware at the time, eventually fought his pain and depression, got counseling and faced the future with as much optimism as he could.

Now the running backs coach at Old Dominion University, Lucas remarried two years ago to Natasha Harrison, whom he met in college and who came to his aid when he was grieving.

And he's become a father.

On May 15, Natasha gave birth to a 7-pound, 2-ounce Sage Lucas, and her dad can't stop smiling every time he holds her.

"Being a father is so awesome," he said.

His journey back to becoming a husband and finally a father six years after Sarita's death is a remarkable story of courage, perseverance, Christian faith and the power of finding love again.

Sarita and Tony met during orientation at Columbia University in New York City and quickly became a couple. He attended Columbia and she attended Barnard College, an affiliate school.

A decade later, they were still a couple and remained so as they pursued their careers, albeit far apart.

He was hired by Trinity College near his hometown of Bloomfield, Conn., where he worked two seasons and earned a master's degree. He then went to Bowling Green for a season and Georgetown for two more. She went to law school and was hired as a prosecutor in Delaware.

"We were separated for so long," said Lucas, who said they saw each other on weekends when they could. "But I still knew she was the one I wanted to marry."

During his second year at Georgetown they finally married. When he landed a job at University of Delaware, he felt that they were finally living out their dream.

She quickly won renown as a hard-working and fair prosecutor who took on difficult cases, including homicides, assaults and domestic abuse.

Sarita Lucas died on a Sunday, a day when college football coaches begin preparing for the next game. Sarita told Tony she wasn't feeling well when he left that morning, but neither thought it was anything to be alarmed about.

He called shortly after 6 p.m. see if she was coming to campus for a weekly family dinner with the team. When she didn't answer, he suspected something wasn't right and drove to their house.

Police first reported that she died of an apparent heart attack. An autopsy revealed she died of eclampsia, a condition that raises the blood pressure of pregnant women, even those who don't have high blood pressure.

The late Beau Biden, son of presidential candidate Joe Biden, was the Delaware attorney general and worked closely with her.

"She was an incredibly committed and accomplished deputy attorney general and a beloved colleague and friend to many," he said at the time.

Lucas went back to work a week after she died. Surprised co-workers urged him to take more time off.

"I thought it would be harder for me to just sit around and feel sorry for myself with my thoughts and feelings," he said.

Eric Ziady, then Delaware's athletic director, connected him with a counselor.

The sessions helped change his perspective.

"I know now that Sarita had a short life, but she had a good life," he said. "She was put here to accomplish great things, and even at a young age, she was very successful in her career, married and she was a mom. She had the opportunity to feel life within her."

When Natasha Harrison heard of Tony's loss, she immediately called him. By then, she was a physician at West Virginia University.

They became friends as college freshmen. Tony was dating Sarita and Natasha was seeing someone else. They talked about their dating lives, personal problems, challenges in school and dreams, mostly over the phone.

"I remember that he was a better friend to me than I had been to him," she said. "I felt like this was my chance to be a friend to him when he needed one."

They had fallen largely out of touch by the time Sarita died.

"By that time, I had been a physician for a while and had seen what people go through when they lose someone," Natasha said. "I told him, if it was OK with him, I'd like to start checking on him regularly about a month out."

Just as she predicted, about a month after Sarita's death, many of the people helping him deal with his grief were no longer calling. She began checking on him weekly, then more frequently.

"I forgot what those conversations with him were like," she said. "I forgot how much I enjoyed our friendship, and just what a good guy he is."

They began dating in 2015, nearly a year after Sarita died. And once they took the plunge, they were all in. They married on March 3, 2018,

But as has seemed to happen through most of Tony's life, they began married life with a long-distance relationship. She worked in Morgantown while he coached at Temple, Elon and then ODU. She moved to Norfolk this year.

The decision to have a baby was not easy. Natasha is in her late 30s, and pregnancy carries more risks at that age. Lucas' perspective, of course, had been jaded by losing his first daughter.

"For me, the thought was there, 'What if we go down this path and it happens again?'" he said. "The closer we got to the six-month mark, the more anxious I became. I thought, 'if we can just get through six months, I think we'll be OK.' "

By the time they got to the delivery room, he was at peace.

Watching his daughter being born, cutting her cord, then holding her shortly after delivery was a spiritual experience, he said. He said a prayer of thanks as he held his daughter for the first time.

"It was so fascinating to see life come to be," he said.

Natasha says that Tony has been a great husband and father.

"He likes to show his love to me very day," she said. "He's very patient and understanding. He tries to meet you where you are, and if there are things you struggle with, he bears that in mind and acts accordingly."

Tony said in spite of his hardships, he feels fortunate.

"My experience is something I don't mind sharing," he said. "I feel like it's my calling to help people through whatever they might be going through, to realize that beautiful things come out of tragic situations."

A longer version of this story is on ODU's Athletics website.

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