LIVINGSTON — Libby Hankins continued to defy expectations Wednesday night when she was announced as the 2013 Homecoming Queen for the University of West Alabama.
“I was shocked because I knew that I had a lot of friends at this school, but I thought that everybody up there was just amazing,” Hankins, a Gordo native, said in reference to her fellow members of the UWA Homecoming Court. “So when they called my name, it just gave me a rush because I thought people liked me enough to elect me as somebody that represents their school and that meant a lot to me.”
Hankins, a junior at UWA, boasts the obligatorily crowded resume that accompanies all Homecoming queens. She is a cheerleader. She’s in a sorority. She is a UWA Ambassador. And the list goes on. But, amid it all, Hankins continues to successfully battle Cystic fibrosis.
“I was diagnosed when I was two and I came to West Alabama and I was really nervous,” Hankins said of her 2011 decision to leave the comfort of her small town home and take the short drive south to a new life on campus in Livingston. “I was hoping that everyone would be accepting because when I was in high school everybody knew. It wasn’t something I had to walk up and say, ‘Hey, I’m the sick girl.’ Everybody knew. So when I got here, I was afraid people wouldn’t see me the same way.”
What Hankins found upon her arrival at UWA was a welcoming community of classmates and educators that have proven accommodating and encouraging.
“I was completely proved wrong. Everybody here has been absolutely wonderful,” Hankins said. “They bend over backwards to give me anything I need. Anytime I’m sick, they all come. They all check on me. Coming to UWA gave me the best support system I’ve ever had in my life.”
As she stood in Pruitt Hall Wednesday night just minutes after being named Homecoming Queen, Hankins reflected on her decision to attend UWA and thought about what advice she would give to high school students contemplating her path.
“I would tell them that it was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and if they would like to come here, they are more than welcome to find me and I can tell them thousands and thousands of good things,” Hankins said.
For those who know her best, Hankins’ crowning moment Wednesday was the latest highlight in a long line of incredible accomplishments.
“I cried. I was proud of her. She has worked hard,” Hankins’ mother, Susan Estes, said of the moment she heard her daughter’s name announced as Homecoming Queen. “I don’t know that they could have found anybody that loves this school any more than she does.”
Estes has watched her daughter undergo treatments and overcome trials for two decades as she has continued to defy her circumstances and dictate the terms of her own life.
“Libby just doesn’t quit. She decides what she’s going to do and she’s going to do it,” Estes said. “She was diagnosed when she was two and it’s been in and out of the hospital really all of her life, but she just always tells me that she’s not going to spend her whole life getting ready to die. She’s got a lot of living to do. She tells (her doctors) every time we go in, ‘You’ve got to get me out because I know I may not have as much time as everyone else, but I’ve got to pack it all in.’ And she does. She packs it all in.”
Hankins’ most recent visit to the hospital ended just two weeks ago after she spent approximately a month there fighting a respiratory infection.
“There’s no cure. There are some treatments. Just recently in the last couple of years, the life expectancy has been raised to 41,” Estes said of the condition her daughter continues to overcome. “When she was diagnosed, I was told 18 when she was diagnosed 20 years ago. So we’ve doubled that life expectancy.”
All told, she makes five to six hospital visits a year and spends about two weeks in treatment each time.
“It is very hard,” Hankins said of balancing the hospital visits with the normal demands of academic work, campus life and her bevy of extracurricular activities. “It becomes very tricky because I am in cheerleading and I’m in Phi Mu and I’m an ambassador. I like to balance all my things. But when I come back to school, everybody is always very welcoming and always does everything they can to help me get on track.”
As she continues to defy a condition she refuses to let define her, Hankins has allowed her welcoming smile and indomitable spirit to leave an undeniable impression on countless others.
“When I came here, I just wanted to be the same person that I had always been. I never wanted to change who I was,” Hankins said. “I always wanted to be the person that was nice to people and went out of their way. And I guess that being nice to people kind of rewarded me in a way.”
Chief among those people who are forever changed by Hankins’ unparalleled zest for life is the woman who has been by her side through two decades of treatments.
“She teaches me every day that nothing is impossible and life is precious and it is ridiculous to sit around and waste your time and not enjoy every possible thing you can,” Estes said of her daughter’s example. “And when I grow up, I want to be just like her.”