Time is the ultimate gift we'll all receive on Christmas Day.

We can do as much or as little with it as we like. We can sit around watching reruns of Seinfeld (been there), catch up on sleep (my personal favorite) or climb mountains we never thought we’d climb (thanks Montana).

The older I get, the deeper it sinks in that time is precious. Four weeks ago I was reminded when my four-legged best friend left this world. One day he’s wagging his tail like a puppy at Blue Mountain, four days later I’m holding his head and whispering in his ear while the vet ends his life.

Over the years my definition of a hero has changed. My role models these days are those making the most of their time, reminding me what is possible.

My champion of time well spent for 2016 is former Montana women’s basketball player Ali Hurley. You may remember the name -- she suited up for the Lady Griz from 2009-2013.

Hurley is a bright 26-year-old who in May graduated from the school of law at Montana. Soon she’ll take her bar exam and in the blink of an eye she'll be living a busy but comfortable life with a big home and two SUV’s in the garage.

But like all of us, there's still a child inside Hurley. Most of us refuse to listen to the child once we reach adulthood, opting for a life of what’s supposed to be instead of doing precisely what we wish.

Hurley had no intention of extending her athletic career after 2013. For three years she filled her hoops void by playing intramurals, city league and tournaments, sometimes putting off her homework just to participate.

She made plans to start a clerkship with a Montana District Court Judge in Billings when something unexpected happened in June. Ali's boyfriend, former Rocky Mountain College assistant women's hoops coach Kyle Erickson, asked her to move to Italy to be with him while he helped coach a pro team in Parma.

Somehow the team found out Hurley was an NCAA Division I athlete and encouraged her to play. She struggled with the idea, saddled by college loans and mixed feelings about being handed something because of her boyfriend.

"After some internal debate, I realized that I was given an opportunity to play a game I love in one of the most beautiful countries in the world," she offered. "I would be foolish to not give it a try."

At first the Federation of Italian Basketball wasn't going to allow her to participate because she's American. Eventually they agreed because of Ali's heritage (she's eligible for Italian citizenship on her maternal grandmother's side).

Hurley has thrived in a tall and physical league, playing primarily at the 3 spot for Parma Basket Academy. She averages about 16 points and 13 rebounds per contest, utilizing the rebounding and defensive skills she honed under legendary Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig. 

"Many of my points are a result of offensive rebounds," she noted. "Boxing out is not as important in Italy as it is in America."

It's been a strange ride at times. Hurley's head coach and most of her teammates do not speak English. The frustration spikes during games.

But the thing is, Ali is living a life she never dreamed possible seven months ago. The Deer Lodge native is racking up points and grabbing rebounds like her old glory days back at Anaconda High School.

Is it rough being away from family over the holidays? Most definitely.

"But it’s been an incredible experience," she said. "The basketball, living in a different country, learning about a new culture and learning a different language -- amazing. I’m having the time of my life."

Thank you, Ali, for reminding us there's always time to chase a dream. 

Bill Speltz may be reached at 523-5255 or bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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