Cody Hurley recently completed his senior season of tennis at Ohio Northern. It marked the end of a successful career, marked by deeply personal struggles, which have shaped him to be who he is today. (Northern Review photo/ Grant Pepper)

The day we sat down for a second interview, Cody Hurley looked tired.

The 23 year-old squatted with the grunt of a man twice his age, sliding his glasses up to the bridge of his nose as he looked through them with peaked eyes. In our first interview, about a week before, I opened up with a request…

Tell me about your life.

The conversation lasted over an hour.

This time, we were meeting again to sure up some details. There was a lot to talk about, after all, which could have something to do with the grunt or the peakedness or both.

Or maybe it was the taxes he had filed by himself for the first time late the night before. Maybe it was the stress of paying his own bills, insurance and tuition fees, all in the midst of his senior tennis season.

Maybe it is the reality that Cody Hurley, at 23, is now left to fend completely for himself, unguarded from life’s perils by the security blanket that so many his age are able to fall back on.

“So, where were we?” he asked. Good question.


Let’s start in a 30,000 square-foot machine manufacturing plant located in Kettering, OH, one of Dayton’s largest suburbs. This was supposed to be Cody’s first daycare.

“But my dad obviously couldn’t take me to the factory, that wouldn’t work,” Hurley said. “You can’t take a little baby there.”

Cody’s birth father, Tim Phillips, was trying everything he could to hold on to his three-month-old son. Cody was in and out of foster homes as his mother battled drug issues and his father struggled to take care of him. Social services had ruled the couple’s home unfit for a baby to live in. When Cody’s second mother took him in, she had to throw away a good portion of his clothes because they reeked of marijuana.

“You know, she washed it, and it still smelled like pot,” Hurley said.

Eventually, it became too much. At three months old, Cody was up for adoption.

Down the street, in the neighboring suburb of Centerville, a Catholic school teacher and a man who worked in the very same factory were looking to adopt. When one of Debbie Hurley’s co-workers was at a dentist appointment, she heard the dentist talking about how his son had just given a little boy up for adoption. As it turns out, the dentist was Cody’s grandfather — and shortly thereafter, Cody had a home.

Cody was brought in with love and care, Debbie and Eddie grateful to finally have their own son after struggles with infertility. Cody grew up in Catholic school, where his mother taught for 31 years, and would end up splitting time with his adopted mom and dad after they divorced when he was seven.

By the age of 18, Cody had come a long way from the factory, a long way from the pot-stained existence that consumed his beginning. 18 was a big year. He had reconnected with his birth father for the first time, which he says was an exhaustingly emotional, yet utterly fulfilling experience. He had just capped off a senior tennis season where he went 25-4, winning the conference with his doubles partner and receiving numerous Div. II and III college looks.

And for the first time in his young life, Cody Hurley had found a true friend.

He was a transfer student from Texas named Jack, and the two became neighbors when Cody moved in next door. The two played tennis together at Centerville High School and Cody liked Jack because he would stick up for him.

“I’d never really fit in with my tennis team at all. I don’t know why, I just never really did. I wasn’t in the same classes as they were, so a lot of times I was just regarded as not being smart,” Hurley said. “We became really good friends and he started sticking up for me a lot on the tennis team.”

When it came time to look at colleges to attend, Cody could have played tennis on scholarship. Instead, he decided to follow Jack to nearby Wright State University.

“I think it’s because I had never really had a close friend before,” Hurley said. “And once I found this really close friend, this wasn’t something that I wanted to lose going into college.”

So Cody gave up tennis and set off to Wright State, where he immediately became involved with the campus sports broadcasting stations, both radio and television. He had a 4.0 GPA through October, acing classes and beating out seniors for the top spots on Wright State’s broadcast teams. You could find him on ESPNU occasionally, smiling brightly, a boy turning into a man.

And then, without warning, the roof caved in.


Back when he was younger, Cody would sometimes wake up and find sticky notes on the bathroom mirror.

It was his mom, wishing him good luck at a tennis match or simply saying, ‘Have a great day!’

He would collect the notes, forming a stack of them in his room and referring back to them when he need to.

Then, one day, Cody was confronted by a heartbreaking reality. Soon, there may be no more notes. Cody’s mom told him that October that she had been diagnosed with an advanced stage of ovarian cancer.

“Basically, she had a 50/50 chance of surviving surgery,” he said.

Cody was devastated.

As his mom got sicker and sicker, Cody’s focus turned farther away from school. He couldn’t concentrate. He had to witness his mother, one of his biggest role models, undergo chemotherapy. He ended the semester on academic probation.

Cody became depressed, in a constant fog as life moved on past him. Jack left him because he was “too depressing to be around,” and all of the sudden, Cody was alone again. Back to ground zero. Only this time, he just kept sinking.

While Cody had yet to come out as gay, he was dating a guy at Wright State for about six months. But while all this was happening, he told Cody that he wasn’t actually gay. And he had been dating a girl on the side while he and Cody were in a relationship.

“Then I was questioning myself, like, ‘Who am I as a person? I don’t know who I am, I’m not happy with myself,’” Hurley recalls.

Back at home, things were even bleaker. While his mom was undergoing chemotherapy, Cody’s younger brother, Nick (also adopted), had similar academic struggles. His GPA plummeted from a 4.0 to a “2-something,” although he would later earn a 34 on his ACT.

“I felt like everything in my life was just collapsing around me,” Hurley said. “It was just a scary, scary feeling. Just a very hopeless feeling.”

At his lowest point, Cody stood alone in his dorm room. In one hand, his phone. In the other, a knife.

“I wanted to do it but I didn’t,” he said. “I’m not really good with blood so I don’t really know what I was thinking.”

He had his RA on the line as she tried to talk him through the situation.

“I was like, ‘I’m really feeling bad right now and I have this knife…’”

The cops showed up shortly and Hurley was hauled off in handcuffs, dazed and desperate, overwhelmed by it all.


The walls were white. Stark white. And everything was encased in thick plastic.

“I’d never been to jail but I think it’d be worse than prison,” Hurley said. “It was awful.”

After Cody attempted suicide, he dropped out of Wright State. When he moved back home, he tried to do it again — this time, with his mom’s cancer pills. Luckily, his brother saw him before he tried.

“He saw me as I was leaving the room with the bag of pills,” Hurley said. “I hid it in my room and I had this plan just to take them all and just never wake up and I’d be fine. Thank God I never did that. Thank God he saw me do that.”

After two attempts at ending his own life, Cody’s family checked him into a mental hospital in Kettering. He was under constant supervision for three months.

“They’re sticking needles in you every day trying to figure out what meds are good for you, how you’re feeling today… I remember I was stuck in this hallway, it was just a hallway, for like a month,” Hurley said. “I had a room with a bed and that’s it. And I was videotaped all the time, there were cameras on me all the time.”

Cody remembers trying to watch the Ohio State-Dayton first round NCAA Tournament game on his room’s TV. Not only did Dayton upset Ohio State in the game (Hurley is a proud Buckeye fan), but he could barely see the screen. There was a thick plastic case over the television so that patients couldn’t use it to hurt themselves.

“Everything was suicide-proof. And I was not even close to being the craziest person in there,” Hurley said. “Like, there were some people that really needed help, which scared me even more. But I felt completely and utterly worthless.”

After his three months were up, he moved back home with his mom. She was still undergoing treatment and not much had changed for Cody, except that he had started taking medication. He still moped around, a shell of himself. At the age of 20, he felt lifeless.

That all changed when his mom made a phone call.


There was something about being on the court, something about being on a team and working together, that Cody had missed. He had played tennis since the age of four, but had recently taken the year off.

There was something missing and Cody’s mom knew it. So she called his high school tennis coach, Scott Long, and asked if Cody could help out as an assistant coach.

“He needed to have some adults be able to help out and take care of him and give him a safe haven, give him a place where he knows he can get away from any other issues and what not,” Long said.

Immediately, Cody was in. The flame inside him, long dormant, was rekindled.

“I kind of found my love for tennis again,” Hurley said.

Cody’s mother was Centerville’s competitive cheer coach (and an incredibly successful one, at that), while his father coached Taekwondo. Even though coaching wasn’t technically in Cody’s blood, he thought it was.

According to Long, Cody instantly hit it off with the team. He was a mentor to the underclassmen and another set of eyes at practices. For the first time in a year he was back on the court again, and his players could tell that he still had it in him. He could still hit, could still glide from one side of the court to the other, and he still clearly loved playing the game.

At a tournament in Louisville, the team suggested that Hurley might want to give college tennis another shot.

“And I said, ‘You know what, that’s a good idea,’” Hurley remembers.

With his mom continuing to battle cancer at home, Cody looked for a nearby school where he could play immediately. He enrolled at Mount St. Joseph’s, a Div. III school near Cincinnati (about 45 minutes from home).

As the school year progressed, his mom’s symptoms regressed. She returned to teaching that year, and although Cody struggled to fit in on his new team, he experienced immediate success. Despite rupturing his bursa sack during a match that fall, Hurley played his way into a pivotal role on the team.

One day, though, the cancer came back. It was more aggressive than before, doctors said. By late February, Cody’s mother had a 10 percent chance of living. She called her sons one day and told them that she wouldn’t be able to fight any longer.

Cody struggled to stay focused on school and tennis as the weeks went on, knowing that every day could be his mother’s last.


While she was battling bouts with chemo, Cody’s mother gave him a purple Wimbledon towel for Christmas.

“And I remember she told me, ‘When you look at this towel, think of how hard I fight against cancer and think about how strong I am. I want you to do that whenever you’re playing,’” Hurley said.

April 1, 2015 was a spotless day in Cincinnati, OH. The sun was high in the sky and as Cody remembers, it wasn’t too hot and wasn’t too cold.

Cody, however, was a wreck.

His mother was in dire condition, so most of his family could not attend his match versus conference rival Hanover that day. With the weight of the day looming over his head, every little thing set Cody off.

He struggled through his doubles match and singles wasn’t going any better. He would repeatedly have to stop at the fence to cry in between points, fighting through each swing with tears in his eyes and his mind entirely elsewhere.

“I knew something bad could very well happen at any time, and I couldn’t focus on tennis,” Hurley said. “I said, ‘Why am I here? I don’t want to be here.’”

He quickly went down 5-0 in his first singles set, one point away from being swept. Then he saw his purple towel resting in his tennis bag.

Hurley went on to win the set 7-6, saving eight set-points. He went down 3-0 in the second set but came back to win that one as well. The tears dried as Hurley swung with a newfound tenacity, a renewed strength.

“The other kid didn’t know what was going on,” Hurley said laughing. “I was just feeling so inspired all the sudden. I just felt inspired to keep fighting, fighting, fighting.”

Later that night, Cody got a phone call saying that his mother had passed away at the age of 54. She had battled cancer for over a year.

That morning, Cody had gone to his mother’s church to pray before his match. He prayed that she would pass away peacefully on Easter, that same day. Maybe God listened.


The spray paint was white, brightly contrasting the tan garage at Cody’s childhood home.

It read, “FAGGOT,” emblazoned across the door as if it were a warning.

This was one of several scars that marked Cody’s home during his sophomore year of high school, when bullies from his childhood elementary school had come back to haunt his family. Each time, it would get worse. They started by spray-painting his garage and duct-taping his mailbox shut and eventually worked their way up to cutting their wrists on the family’s doorstep.

The police became involved, frequently pulling Cody out of class to ask him questions. Eventually, they found the perpetrator. But Cody wasn’t sure why they spent thousands of dollars vandalizing his house. He knew that people might have had suspicions that he was gay during his high school days, but he hadn’t come out yet.

“People would think… you can kind of tell. People would always have this opinion, ‘Cody’s this, Cody’s that.’ But no one ever bullied me about it,” Hurley said. “It was just people that I used to know.”

Cody never seemed to fit in in high school, and the same could be said for his time at Mount St. Joseph’s. While he experienced success on the tennis court, he never felt that he meshed with his team. He was able to stay strong after his mother’s death, which is good because his team and coaching staff didn’t seem to offer much support.

Academically, he faced the wrath of a priest who gave him an ‘F’ in attendance during the semester when his mother died. He told Hurley that his father passed away when he was 35 and that he should “just deal with it.”

After playing another year at MSJ, Cody decided that he needed to transfer.

He came to ONU that spring at the recommendation of a close friend from his high school tennis days, John Mostowy, who played for four years at Northern. As Cody describes it, he was hooked on his first visit.

“In my first five minutes on campus, I’m walking by the stereotypical jock or the stereotypical really pretty girl, and I’m like, ‘Oh, here we go.’ At my last school they were very stuck up and snooty. And I didn’t even say anything and they were both like, ‘Hey, how are you?’ And I wasn’t with a tour guide or anything, so it didn’t look like I was on a recruiting visit,” Hurley recalls. “I was just walking with a family friend. And I was like, ‘Woah, OK.’”

When he arrived on campus, however, he was still dealing with the fallout of serious injuries that plagued him during his last year at Mount St. Joseph’s.

He had surgery on his shoulder right after his freshman season ended, which sidelined him for the entire summer. Then, after showing alarming gastrointestinal symptoms in the following weeks, he was told by doctors that he might have colon cancer. As it turns out, he has a severe case of ulcerative colitis instead.

By the end of the summer, Cody was moving his stuff out of his mom’s house and into his dad’s house when he fell through the attic. His elbow landed on a saw and his head landed on a bench. On top of having a concussion, he suffered grade 2 tears in both the bicep and tricep of his swinging arm. His elbow was also dislocated. For the next two months, the only finger he could feel in his right hand was his thumb.

Although he had battled back to play his sophomore spring season at MSJ, his shoulder ailments still lingered over the summer before he got to ONU. And during his first fall season in orange and black, he reinjured it.

Doctors told Hurley that it was time to hang it up.

When one doctor told him this, he went to another. When that doctor said the same thing, he went to another. And then he went to a third. Hurley refused to accept ‘no’ for an answer, but they all agreed. Cody should have been done with tennis.

“And I was like, ‘That’s not an option for me,’” Hurley said.

At that point, ONU head coach Mike Bonnell offered a potential remedy. He thought that maybe if Cody used a two-handed forehand (whereas American tennis players usually only use one) then that might take some pressure off of his right shoulder, at least enough to allow him to play.

Cody was all in.

It was like re-learning how to play tennis, though, as he likened it to a right-handed basketball player having to learn how to shoot lefty. But what’s important was that Cody was back on the tennis court, his sanctum, which had saved him before and would save him again.


When I met Cody for lunch at a Raising Cane’s in Centerville last August, he seemed reenergized.

As we caught up over crispy chicken tenders and crinkly fries, his energy bounced off the walls. He spoke of new opportunities and leaps he was taking, and his chicken got cold as he expounded on life.

He seemed far from what you might expect, given what he’d been through just three weeks earlier.

Leading into last summer, Cody was coming off of his best collegiate tennis season yet. He was able to use his unorthodox, two-handed forehand and lots of ice to make it through his first season at ONU, despite suffering another injury at the tail end of the season. He had a breakthrough opportunity at the beginning of the summer, expanding on a passion that he had discovered back home two years prior: coaching.

He’d gone to Wooster that July to work a Wilson tennis camp, which was run by Ohio State’s coaching staff. He was able to make connections while coaching high-level athletes, imparting his wisdom and leadership on those around him and soaking everything in.

But one day, he got a phone call. It was at 7 a.m., and it was his brother. He was sobbing uncontrollably.

On July 13, Cody’s father died of a sudden heart attack. He was 50 years old. His brother, four years younger than Cody, had just watched it happen.

“I didn’t even know what to say,” Hurley said.

Cody had grown much closer to his father after moving in with him the year before, after his mom died. They had taken a family trip to Jamaica where Cody said he “never felt closer to his dad.” And just like that, he was gone.

In less than two years, Cody Hurley had lost both of his parents.

I had so many questions for Cody that day. What’s going to happen now? Who are you going to live with? Are you OK?

He answered them all with grace, but he clearly didn’t want to linger on it. Instead, he was enamored with the present.

After his father’s death, Cody took a couple weeks off. But he had made such an impression on the Ohio State coaching staff during his time in Wooster that they wanted to see him again. They made arrangements for him to coach a youth camp of theirs, which then led to him getting to spend a day with the staff, touring the facility and talking about coaching.

They started passing Cody’s resume around to different Div. I schools across the country, and soon Cody was scheduled to fly out to New Jersey to work Nike’s camp in mid-August. He was wide-eyed and blown away by how fast everything had come about, but he was down for the ride. This is what he wanted to do.


The flowers were white, resting gently against the dark brown stone with “HURLEY” inscribed near the middle. Cody brought them when he visited his mother on Easter.

Usually when Cody goes to visit his mom, it’s either on Easter, Christmas or Mother’s Day. He brings flowers, he prays, and he reflects. Sometimes, he plays old voicemails from his mother, still on his phone, to remember her voice. He always tears up at some point, it’s hard not to. He wishes he could tell her everything.

He wishes he could tell someone everything.

That’s one of the hardest things, he says. Even though he’s now engaged and he has plenty of friends at ONU after two years, he greatly misses being able to tell his parents about everything he’s doing.

“In my life, I feel like I have all these amazing things going for me right now. Coaching, being engaged, all these different things,” Hurley said. “But I can’t share it with the two people that I want to share it with the most. And that’s what kills me.”

Whenever Cody posts about an achievement or life milestone on Facebook, he tags his parents. He talks to them, but they can’t talk back.

Cody will be back for one more year next year, as he will be completing his public relations minor and stepping in as an assistant coach on the tennis team. He will also serve as a co-sports director at WONB, where he’s worked since he’s been at ONU. He plans to graduate next May with a degree in sport management.

Before that, however, he will be busy with coaching opportunities this summer. He’ll be flying out to L.A. for three weeks to coach at USC’s camp, then potentially to Oregon, then back to New Jersey to coach for Nike again. He’ll be working the Wooster and Columbus camps again this summer as well.

The connections that Cody made last summer at Ohio State are paying major dividends, as his networking opportunities seem to be growing by the week.

“I’m reading the emails that these coaches are sending to other coaches and I’m just kind of like, ‘I don’t think I’m all that, but thanks,’” Hurley laughs. “I never thought that me, at Ohio Northern, in the middle of a cornfield, would be able to impress these coaches enough that they’d want to… like, these are big-time coaches who are taking their time to talk to me.”

Long believes that one of Cody’s biggest strengths as a coach, even back when he started as an assistant at Centerville, was his ability to connect with players on an emotional level. He understands how to manage an athlete’s emotions and how to respond when they break down, as well as what to tell them to build them back up. Hurley agrees that while he understands the technical side of the game, his gift is the mental side of it.

“Something I think that I understand more than most people is the mental side of tennis and the mental side of sports, just because of what I’ve overcome in my life,” Hurley said. “I think that’s helped me understand tennis. Tennis is a frustrating sport. You can make tons of mistakes, but it’s how you respond to those mistakes.”


On May 1, a scorching hot afternoon with the sun beating down on ONU’s tennis courts, Cody Hurley sat by his bag and sipped from an orange Gatorade.

In his bag, as always, was his purple towel.

“Sometimes it’s on my chair. Sometimes, when I’m in a really tough situation and when I need to fight harder and really dig in, I’ll take it back to the baseline by me and put it back by the wall or the fence,” Hurley said. “That little purple towel just always brings me motivation and strength. And even if I don’t win, I know that she was there watching.”

ONU was hosting Capital in the OAC Tournament quarterfinals — the Polar Bears earned the three-seed after finishing with a 6-2 conference record. This would be Cody’s last home match, as he played out his fourth and final season of athletic eligibility. Every match from this point on could be the last of his playing career.

Northern won doubles, 2-1. Cody was now facing Capital’s Ben Heiland in No. 6 singles, with all six singles matches occurring on neighboring courts at the same time.

After winning the first set, 6-2, Hurley found himself in trouble in the second set. He had surrendered a 3-0 lead as Heiland battled back to tie it at 3-3. Temperatures on the court soared to the 80-degree mark as Cody headed back to his chair to regroup.

Maybe that’s when it hit him. Maybe it sunk in, that this could be it. This could be his last time competing in the sport that saved him. Through all the loss and all the pain, he couldn’t lose this.

Cody bounced back and forth on the end line as Heiland served, Hurley with an eager return. His hits had a zip to them now, slicing through the air with a bite that seemed supernatural in the late stages of a heated match.

“COME ON” Cody belted after winning the next point. “LET’S GO, BEARS!” he implored his teammates around the complex.

For as much as Hurley had begun to turn it on, Heiland seemed to wilt in the heat of the moment. Hurley would follow weak returns with vicious spikes at the net, pumping his fist as he walked back to the endline for another serve.

In Div. III tennis, the players judge their own shots. There are not enough officials to judge all six singles matches at once, so the players are supposed to call the balls in and out.

By the time the second set rolled around, Heiland had made it a habit of complaining about every call. He seemed to spend half his energy whining or pointing or a combination of both. And for what it’s worth, Hurley could have done the same thing.

But when you consider someone who has seen the depths of human existence, who has matured light years ahead of the average college student, the idea of being tripped up by a raw call seems trivial.

Instead, Hurley chose to focus his energy on closing the deal.

As the match went on, Hurley got stronger. He got faster and more determined, breaking Heiland down mentally with every swing. He closed out the second set by winning the last three games and seven consecutive points, claiming his court for ONU as the rest of the singles matches wore on.

And afterwards, he shook Heiland’s hand at the net. He joked with a teammate that came onto the court to congratulate him, switching from kill-mode to funny guy in a matter of seconds. He wiped his face with his towel, then proceeded to make his way around the outside of the court, thanking everyone who came to watch him compete (sometimes more than once). Then he went to cheer on his teammates.

For what it’s worth, Heiland never stood a chance.


That Saturday, Cody’s playing career came to an end. Northern fell to Mount Union in the OAC Tournament semifinals, 5-1. The match was played in Mason, just over a half hour from his hometown.

It concluded a collegiate playing career plagued by injuries — Cody did the math, and of his 48 months as a college athlete, he was forced to sit out 33. He was told he would never be able to play again because of his shoulder, but he did anyway. He battled tears and sprains and kept on chugging. But it would never compare to the mental baggage that he claimed during that time.

He wishes he could tell his parents everything that’s happened; that he’s engaged to his fiance, Joe. That he is quickly climbing the coaching ranks at a young age. That he made it.

Instead, he tries to focus his energy on the present. He gets overly excited about the little things. When we ate at Cane’s, he talked about how cool it was that the Ohio State coaching staff gave him a tennis ball with the OSU logo on it when they met for an interview. He was genuinely thrilled.

Maybe that’s because when you’ve lost as much as he has, especially in such a short period of time, you understand the importance of every little thing. He truly believes in the importance of every day, good or bad, because he knows how close he was to having none left.

Most important is the fact that Cody Hurley is finally happy being himself. He came out this year and has also shared his story with anyone who will listen. He believes this has been his best year yet.

“If you’re happy with who you are and you believe in yourself and you just stay confident and positive, I feel like you can achieve anything,” Hurley said.

He’s come a long way from his darkest days, four years ago.

“I think the biggest thing is that I thought I was a failure. I thought that I’d failed myself, my family. I thought I had failed everybody that’s ever done something for me,” Hurley said. “And nowadays, when I fail, it’s a learning lesson for me. I take it and I use it to make myself better.”

Along with completing courses and finishing his tennis career, this year has brought additional challenges. He is completely on his own now. His permanent address is now in Ada, and he bought his own car last month. He is paying social security checks and filing taxes. He’s constantly sorting through boxes of his mom and dad’s possessions, trying to figure out what he should keep. He’s now paying for his own tuition.

Going home is hard for Cody. When he does, it’s rare, but he goes to his stepmother’s house in Springfield. It’s just her and her two dogs now.

“It’s a really hard thing to go home nowadays,” Hurley said.

He’ll go home to visit his mother’s grave (his father was cremated upon request), but he usually won’t linger. He spent some of his darkest moments in that space.

“It’s hard. When I go home am I happy and am I excited to see people? Yes. But at the same time, it just reminds me of this big absence in my life,” Hurley said. “I’m just missing two huge parts of my life.”

Cody will say that tennis saved him, and maybe that’s true. Who knows where he would be now if he didn’t get into coaching through his high school team, or if he wasn’t able to work through some of his toughest times on the court. But in reality, Cody Hurley saved himself. When his back was against the wall, he responded. Every time.

Long likens Hurley to a boxer, once bloodied and bruised but never out of the fight.

“I think that’s probably what he’s really had to go through, is that he’s been knocked down,” Long said. “He has to think about, ‘What’s next, what’s still out there for me?’ And he realizes, ‘Oh, there is a lot out there. I’ve gotten a lot of adversity, but there’s still people who care and things I can do.’ So he just gets back up, gets knocked down again, gets back up, gets knocked down again…”

Long paused and took a deep breath.

“It’s time for him not to get knocked down any more, you know?”

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