Saturday, March 27, 2021

A Life Well-Lived-Nancy Hopkins

Today I am beginning my "A Life Well-Lived" series. I think A LOT about people that I have loved this side of Heaven.  I was blessed for a long period of time, not to have to say good-bye to people leaving this world to go to Heaven. At the same time, I realize life doesn't stay the same. We all know the phrase, "The only constant in life is change." *grin*

There will never be another person like the ones that we have to let go. That's so bittersweet, isn't it? On one hand, they were awesome here and made impacts on humans in their world that will last for generations. On the other hand, we cannot have one more visit in person with that human.  See, it's so bittersweet. *grin*

So in that thought process, I want to honor Nancy Hopkins. We all called her Hops. 

The summer before my eighth grade year we moved to Lawrence, Kansas from Texas. Part of me was terrified to start a new school, and another part of me knew I couldn't change it so I had to do it. I had been on an IEP for academics (although I qualified for services under an Other Health Impairment (OHI) label.) in Texas but I began the year in Lawrence without academic support. *grin*

So I went to Physical Education (PE) for the first time (August, first day of school) and met Hops. Of course, at that point it was Ms. Hopkins. The first day was not a dress-out day. I had been dressing out in PE since 6th grade in Texas, so I wasn't nervous about that. Ms. Hopkins reminded me a lot of me. She dressed down, didn't wear makeup, and my first impression of her showed that she knew who she was and liked who she was even though it was different than a typical woman. I was also nervous too, as she seemed a little rough around the edges. (Obviously I didn't have that verbiage in 8th grade, but that summarizes my thoughts.) We alternated PE with our elective class day by day. So, PE might be Monday and Tuesday might be choir. (that was my elective at the time) So the next time I had PE I had an unexpected experience.

We did our usual warmups in our "squads" which were actually kids sitting lines stretching. Warmups were fine because I could do all of them. What I didn't know was going to happen, was that I would have to run a lap around the track at the end of warm ups. *gulp*  

So Hops told the class to go run a lap on the track. Everyone headed out to the track. I went too, as I didn't know how to tell Hops that I was nervous because I didn't want to be the last one coming in. So I went out and ran my little heart out. I was crying before I even got done on the track. I could see Hops watching, and that made me scared. At the same time, what was I going to do, hide? *grin* No, I ran up to her, last one at the finish line, and she asked me if I'd like to go to the locker room. I said yes.

I went in to the locker room, washed my face, got a drink of water, and sat down on a bench. I didn't know if I should change or stay in my gym clothes. So I just sat. I also didn't know how long to just sit. So, I just sat. *grin* 

Hops walked in the locker room and came over to me. She got down on my level and talked gently to me. She explained to me that she didn't know me, and it was up to me to let her know what my limits were. At that time, I hadn't really learned how to advocate for myself, so I wasn't sure how to do that but she seemed super kind to me. She also warned me that even though I might have limitations physically, she would push me too. She definitely followed through with that promise. *grin*

During my eighth and ninth grade years she did just that. Her goal for me was to do ten unassisted sit-ups. I hated it at the time, as that was super hard at first. Over time, I did it. It took two years, but I did it. While that made me proud, that wasn't the deepest lesson she taught me. 

Over those two years, her comments and interactions with me became special to me. She liked that I could throw a three-pointer into the basketball hoop when we were just shooting hoops in gym. She celebrated me every chance she could. She also made a point of not letting me use CP as a crutch. I would let her know my limits and she would modify an activity to where I could do it but it was still a challenge. That's what I do with my students daily, I take what they think they can do and push them at least one step forward. *grin* 

When the class would run the track after warm ups, I would run in the gym and she would let me stop when everyone came in. If the class ran the mile, I ran a half mile and she let me double my score as that would have us end at about the same time. Of course when it was cold and we ran inside the gym, we all did it. I only fell a few times. *grin*

At the end of my ninth grade year, we had some deep conversations. She encouraged me to "not let my handicap become a handicap." She also encouraged me to not say the word "hate" in regard to people, as that wasn't kind. I can still hear her say, "don't say hate" to students. That was priceless. I also don't let my students say "hate" either. Yes, she still lives on within me. *grin*

The biggest lesson she taught me though was to believe in myself. She told me that there wasn't anything I couldn't do AND DO WELL. *grin* Whenever I have had bumps in my life I have thought about that and it has encouraged me.

I have my own twist on that and in my classroom I always say "I like you" when they leave my room. *grin* In fact, I recently had a student tell me to stop saying, "I like you" when he leaves my room. Why? He said he knows that and I don't need to remind him of that. *giggle* 

Hops remained in my life as teachers can in the lives of students. When I went away to college the first time and I was struggling, Hops called me in my dorm room. My parents had reached out to her, and she called me. That meant a lot to me.

When I started doing yearly Christmas Cards, I added her to my list. It was also kinda cool that she lived on the street I did when I first came to Lawrence. *grin* I also dog-sat for her at one point during the 90's. It was cool and it meant a lot to me that she trusted me with her furry kid. 

With the invention of Social Media, I requested her on facebook to be a friend a she accepted my request. That was fun because I got to see her life too. We didn't message each other, we just liked and loved each other's posts from time to time. 

One day in 2014, she sent me a message on messenger inviting me to come spend time with her at the nearby high school while her volleyball team played in a tournament. I'M SO GLAD I had that day with her. *grin* I got to see her coach her team, which was awesome. She also made time to chat with me. 

At the end of the day, she said things I won't forget. She said she was proud of me teaching kids with special challenges, and even more proud of the difference I make out at camp. She said she had looked through my posted pics and could see what a difference I was making. That made me smile. 

I also asked her for a selfie. She said yes and it is hanging in my living room and is also on my desk at school. I'm so happy she gave me that day. I am not sure how many people get to spend an afternoon with their favorite teacher as an adult, but I'm thankful I did. *grin*

I share all of that, and realize that I am just one of MANY students she touched over the years. I watched her on social media as she would send flowers when a former student lost a family member in death. She gave and gave in more ways than I can put in a post. 

She also ran the shot clock at the University of Kansas basketball games. I liked that because I could see her on tv often as the coaches would walk to shake hands in front of where she was sitting. No matter where life has taken me, I counted on that constant in my life. Yes, that seems silly, but as an adult it always brought me comfort.

She also built a cardio room at Free State High. They named the room after her, which is perfect. She retired in 2018. She was also inducted into the HPER Alumni Hall of Honor at Emporia State University in 2019. 

Hops had a heart issue in January of this year. She passed away after a week at Lawrence Memorial Hospital (LMH) on January 8. 

"Don't ever let your handicap become a handicap." That has stayed with me on some deep levels. She'll never know what a difference she made in my life. Truly.

I know that there are A LOT of people who could post other stories. I loved it when I would see her other former students post on her Facebook wall and say things like, "I played this position in volleyball, and I did it!" I always smiled when I saw those type of posts because I knew I was just one of MANY that Hops helped along the way to adulthood. *grin*

Talk about a life well lived, Hops did that!


Your life made a difference in mine. *grin* I hope I leave students with lessons like the ones you taught me. *grin*



GOOD....especially as we honor loved ones.  *grin*

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