Cheering for Kennedy: Fremont High girls share dreams, friendship with new teammate
Doctors can't provide an estimate of when Kennedy will lose mobility or how much longer she has to live, leaving family and friends carefully watching her condition and enjoying each day. They hope she has enough time left to be able to cheer at a few basketball games, and they share her experiences on a Facebook page.
"It's so exciting to see her dream come true," Hansen said. "I can't get my smile off my face. I come home after every game and my cheeks are sore."
One of the girls
Kennedy responds instantly when asked, "Who are you with?"
"Friends. Nice," she says firmly. "Cheerleaders."
When Kennedy joined the team, the girls took turns going to her house to work on cheers. Now, they go in groups to the Hansen house each week just to spend time with their new friend.
"We just kind of hang out with her. I went and visited her Monday (and) we played Barbies. It was so much fun," said Jordyn Chandler, a senior on the team.
One thing about Kennedy surprised teammate Kayla: "She loves boys."
Like any teenage girl, when Kennedy is with her friends she loves to sing along with the radio, talk about boys and plan for the Sadie Hawkins dance she will attend in two weeks, Kayla said with a laugh.
For Jason Hansen, seeing his daughter be "one of the girls" with her new friends has filled a need in her life that no one else could.
"I always felt like we would never see that, (that) I'll never see her go to a dance, I'll never see her cheer," Jason Hansen said. "A lot of these girls were inspired. It's relieving for our family because we get to see her doing what she always dreamed of doing."
Watching Kennedy cheer is one of many precious memories Jason Hansen said he's storing up for the future.
"I just call it our bubble," he said. "I feel like we have this big bubble surrounding us, filling up with all of these experiences with her — this being one of them. One day the bubble will burst and she will be gone, but all of these wonderful things will rain down on us."
Lessons from Kennedy
Despite her declining mental state and difficulty speaking, Kennedy has no trouble expressing love for her family and teammates, communicating mostly through hugs. When teammates walk up to Kennedy, they announce themselves by saying their name and accepting her embrace.
"She gives some of the tightest and best hugs I have ever felt," said junior Britton Lucas, who likes to take her guitar to Kennedy's house for singalongs. "She is just so sweet and willing to get to know everyone and just hug them."
Each member of the team has learned something different from Kennedy's example.
For Kayla, it has been gratitude for her health and the strength to improve the cheer and tumbling moves she knows Kennedy would love to be able to do.
Jordyn said she has been inspired by Kennedy's enthusiasm after watching her cheer without complaint on cold, rainy nights.
And love for Kennedy is spreading through the student body at Fremont High, Britton said.
"I've seen a lot more people start to open up and be kind to others," she said. "And I think more people are starting to realize who (Kennedy) is and how sweet she is. They just come up to her and say 'hi' and introduce themselves, and they all want to get to know her."
But the hardest lesson is still ahead.
"I think that as Kennedy continues to change and her health gets worse, I think some of the girls will struggle with it," Heather Hansen said. "The great thing is we're kind of like a new family, and we're there for each other."
Knowing that someday soon Kennedy won't be on the team brings tears to Kayla's eyes, but she finds strength in the love and faith the Hansen family has shown her.
"Her family is really comforting. They know and (Kennedy) is aware of what's going to happen, and she's still as happy as can be. They comfort us when we should be comforting them," Kayla said. "Right now she's living the moment and living her dream, so it makes it easier for us to know that she's really just going to go home. She's going to be OK, and we're going to be OK."
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