Miami Palmetto Senior High School volleyball coach and physical education teacher Kimberly-Latshaw Ortiz was known for her unmatched strength and positivity throughout her battle with pancreatic cancer as well as her extreme dedication to her students, athletes, family and friends.
On Jan. 30, Latshaw lost her battle with pancreatic cancer after fighting for over two years. In her final moments, Latshaw shared an important piece of advice.
“Please take a minute to slow down, take a deep breath, enjoy your family and tell those closest to you how much they mean,” Latshaw said.
To those who knew her, these words represented who she truly was as a person and how she chose to live her life.
Throughout her career at Palmetto, Latshaw touched the lives of countless teachers, students and faculty members. Palmetto Athletic Director Steve Batten specifically remembers Latshaw’s impact due to both professional and personal relationships.
“She was somebody that always brought the department and the coaches together for birthdays,” Batten said. “She was always a very giving and caring person.”
Batten had first met Latshaw through his daughters, who had tried out for the Palmetto volleyball team. Through Latshaw’s leadership, they won the Greater Miami Conference championships, district championships and even went on to compete at state level.
“[As a coach,] she always wanted everybody to be in the right place at the right time with everything they were supposed to have,” Batten said. “On the court, she expected everybody to know their assignments and play at a high level.”
An incredible friend, mother, coach and person, Latshaw affected the lives of many, forever impacting them and always remaining in their hearts.
Palmetto head girls basketball coach and security guard Donnie Martin remembers her personality and positivity in the same way.
“She was always positive, smiling and willing to go the extra mile for her students and athletes. Her character was like no other; she was warm, caring, humble, positive, direct and honest. Her being a coach did not change who she was off the court; she was Kim Latshaw 24 hours a day,” Martin said.
As both Martin and Latshaw were involved with coaching different Palmetto sports teams, they quickly formed a strong friendship.
“She believed in the same things [as me], such as discipline and teaching life lessons to students on and off the court,” Martin said. “I want everyone to remember [her] as being the strongest, most positive woman, coach, mother, wife [and] daughter that ever stepped foot on this campus.”
Both on and off the court, Latshaw continuously strived to improve the lives of those around her. As the Palmetto girls’ and boys’ volleyball coach and faculty members, students, athletes and colleagues experienced her devotion.
Palmetto alumni, former boys’ volleyball player and current University of Miami freshman Juan Flechas carries Latshaw’s spirit and lessons around with him daily. He embodies the influence that her coaching and guidance provided to so many.
“She was basically not only a coach, she was a mentor, and a really good friend to me. It got to a point where I trusted Coach Latshaw more than anyone else on campus,” Flechas said. “She was basically my best friend. I knew that if anything happened, I could always reach out to her. She was basically another mom to me.”
When Flechas started school at Palmetto, he had just recently moved from Colombia and was having a difficult time adjusting to a new country. He recalls Latshaw as the first person within the Palmetto community to reach out a helping hand, creating an abundant feeling of welcomeness.
Throughout his high school career, Flechas and Latshaw formed a powerful coach-player bond. They helped each other through the hard times and encouraged each other to always do better.
As Latshaw began truly fighting her battle with cancer, Flechas remained by her side on the volleyball team. He witnessed her perseverance until the end, providing him with the ability to recognize genuine strength.
“Her character definitely did not change when she got sick. She got stronger. If you felt sorry for her, she would tell you to be strong. Being sick did not stop her from being herself,” Flechas said. “She became even more of a role model and you started to look up to her even more. You would say: ‘Wow, look at Coach Latshaw. She is so strong.’”
Coach Martin remembers Latshaw’s strength in the same way.
“That’s what made her special. I don’t think [anybody] knew she was going through her sickness until she told them. She was strong and determined to beat this beast. She carried on everyday as if nothing was wrong; she didn’t want pity, she wanted everyone to help support her and be happy and live their lives to the fullest,” Martin said.
The Palmetto community will forever remember Coach Kimberly Latshaw and her impact on athletes, faculty and the school.
“She was just somebody that was great to have in your life and to be around,” Batten said. “The world has lost somebody that was so positive, but I think as a guardian angel she’s going to look over the kids and Palmetto and the future of everybody she touched.”