G-P's Haley Hooker credits support of family, friends

May. 18, 2014 @ 03:14 PM

 In her recovery from back surgery, Gatlinburg-Pittman High School graduating senior and soccer player Haley Hooker was not motivated by a desire to prove doubters wrong; she wanted to prove that those who believed in her were right.

“Really, I didn’t even want to play again at first,” Hooker said. “My mom, every time I said ‘I’m not playing anymore,’ she kept saying ‘yeah you are.’ They all were pushing me, my family, my friends, my coaches. I don’t know, they just knew I could do it.”

In fourth grade, Hooker, 18, was diagnosed with scoliosis and wore a back brace for several years. After frustration with the continuing prognosis, she was taken for a second opinion during her freshman year of high school, and it was determined that she needed to have surgery.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “They told me there’s a chance — it wasn’t a real high chance, it was like one-tenth of one percent chance that I could die — but they’re like, we have to tell you this, and I thought, my luck, I’m going to die. It was pretty scary for everyone.”

The brace she wore was painful. It had to be as tight as possible, and she was required to wear it 23 hours each day. However, when she underwent the eight-hour procedure, in which a rod was fused to her spine, she realized the feeling of the brace was not as bad as she initially thought.

“I’ve never been in so much pain in my entire life,” Hooker said. “It seemed quick. They put me to sleep and it felt like I was only asleep for like 10 minutes, but it hurt. I think everyone just hated to see me in so much pain, especially right after I got my surgery, they were so tore up, but I think they knew that I could get through it.”

The pain was eased by the support of her family. When she woke up, her mother, father and grandmother, who would pass away the following year, were by her side. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the first small victory after the surgery.

“The next day — it may have been the same day actually, but it was either that day or the next — I was walking again and they all thought it was crazy because usually it takes at least a week before you can walk after that surgery,” Hooker said. “I was so thankful for my family and my church, my friends, my soccer team, all praying for me.”

From this point, the road back would still be long. She had to return to get checkups once each month before she would be cleared to play soccer again. She would miss an entire season. Waiting and watching her teammates might have been the hardest part of the whole process.

“Finally, when they released me, on that next day I went to practice,” Hooker said. “My friend kicked a ball and it hit me straight in the back and I just started crying because I was just thinking, oh my gosh what if something happened?

“It didn’t hurt, I think I was just shocked and freaked out. I think she may have cried too.”

When she got back to playing the sport she loves, Hooker found that nothing had changed. She was concerned that she would be a year behind everyone, but she didn’t lose her touch, and she was able to earn her spot back on the team.

“It was just a miracle, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “And then my senior year I got all-district and all-region, so it was great.” Hooker also earned a scholarship to Carson Newman University, where she will continue her soccer career and study media communications.

“I remember saying, when I was really young, I said ‘It would be cool to have surgery and come back and play in college,’ she said. “When it happened, I just wanted to prove that I could do it. That I could come back and start again and get all-district, all-region and go to college with a scholarship, and I did it. I don’t know, it’s just great having a goal and then you achieve it.” Her next goal is to graduate college and pursue a career as a news reporter in Savannah, Ga., where her aunt lives, or in Charleston, S.C., where another aunt once lived. All things considered, Hooker believes that the whole ordeal made her a better person.

“My faith has really grown,” she said. “I always say my freshman year was my best year for some reason. If none of this happened, it would have been a lot different. I probably would have gone to a different college, I would have different friends, I wouldn’t have the strive to get where I want, honestly.”

If she could go back and give herself any advice — or advise someone in a similar situation — there is just one thing she would say.

“Never look down,” Hooker said. “Pray and rely on your parents being there and be thankful for what you have and what you could be.”

jold@themountainpress.com