Gig Harbor Now is posting profiles of each of the 25 Students of Distinction being honored by the Greater Gig Harbor Foundation. The students will be honored during a banquet from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at Ocean5, 5268 Point Fosdick Dr.
Student: Hailey Austin
School: Gig Harbor High School
Category: Overcoming Adversity
Gig Harbor senior has overcome loss, become a leader, shines in academics and tennis
Hailey Austin has had to deal with the loss of two of the most important people in her life: her father and her younger brother. Through it all, she’s been able to do well in Running Start, excel at tennis and coach younger players at the Canterwood Tennis Center – and get accepted to Loyola University of Chicago.
The toughest thing she has had to face — harder even that coping with her father’s suicide — was the sudden death this past January of her 14-year old brother, Hudson, from Mitochondrial Disease.
Hailey Austin Contributed
Hailey and her mom had taken care of Hudson all his life because he was completely dependent – he couldn’t walk, talk, eat or move most of his limbs on his own, she said.
“Mom and I dedicated our time to take care of all his needs,” Hailey said. “Basically, we turned his room into an at-home ICU with oxygen saturation monitors, suction machines, breathing nebulizer, a ventilator for breathing support, G-tube supplies and cabinets full of medicines.”
At age 11, Hailey learned how to crush, mix and administer medicines through Hudson’s G-tube. By 13 she could deep suction his secretions. “I basically grew up in a hospital,” she said.
Caring for her fragile little brother meant that she missed out on many school activities like field trips and hanging out with friends because she couldn’t risk exposing Hudson to a cold or some other illness.
“It was frustrating sometimes but I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” she said.
That’s why Hailey plans to become a doctor. She has been accepted to Loyola University in Chicago, where she’ll major in psychology as part of her pre-med requirements.
“I’ve always been interested in medicine and I seem to have an easy grasp of medical procedures. Hudson was always my inspiration and this will be my way of honoring him,” she said.
Dealing with Hudson’s death was the biggest challenge she faced in high school. Going back to school after his passing, it was very hard to focus on school work.
“It was so sudden, and it’s been a difficult transition, just keeping up. I process grief by keeping busy, so I’ve just been trying to focus on school work and tennis and things that give me satisfaction.”
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She’s very involved in the Interact Club and as an ASB senator she has played a leadership role this year, helping new students get acclimated to the high school environment and organizing school dances, Tidefest and other activities.
“This year has been a shift for me because I haven’t ever really taken a leadership role,” she said.
That new role has become one of her favorite experiences.
“Being in leadership and exploring the different activities and getting to know all the different people at school and hearing their different opinions is really interesting and rewarding. School has changed a lot since I was a freshman.”
She has also enjoyed playing sports – basketball in her freshman and sophomore years and, of course, tennis. “It’s been a good way to connect with other girls – on bus rides and in games and tennis matches.
In addition to varsity tennis, Hailey teaches little kids tennis at the Canterwood Tennis Center, where she also trains and competes in an adult women’s league, even though she’s had a couple of major injuries, including a hip injury and a shoulder injury that couldn’t be repaired.
To overcome the shoulder problem, she switched to serving with her non-dominant hand, according to Ross Eaton, racquet sports director at Canterwood.
“Most people would not have the inner strength and determination to accomplish this very difficult task,” Eaton said. “But she embraced it with a positive attitude and great diligence.
“She’s a natural leader and a great role model for the young people she guides, and parents have asked her to tutor some of her students. She takes pride in what she does and is well-liked and respected among her peers and the adults at our tennis club. Her personal attributes set her apart from those around her.”
The thing of which Hailey is most proud is getting accepted to Loyola. She was also accepted by University of Washington, but decided on Loyola.
“Chicago schools are so hard to get into and I’m just so proud that I made it. And they have a great pre-med program.”
Parent: Debra Austin
Activities: Running Start; ASB Senator; Interact Club; Basketball; Varsity Tennis; teaches tennis at Canterwood and boys tennis at PHS.
Favorite teacher: My favorite was Mrs. Munkres because she always made the classroom a welcoming environment and took interest in the student’s academic and personal lives.
The best thing about Gig Harbor High School: The connections made with other students in the classroom. The sports at GHHS is also a very fun and supportive program!
Advice to younger kids: Never give up on yourself. At the end of the day, you only have yourself and feeling good about yourself is much more important than what others might think about you. Be true to yourself.
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