On a summer day in 2012 Madison Kidd was on a basketball court, looking forward to a senior year filled with the usual highs of homecoming, prom night and graduation, and beyond, a possible future as a college hoops player.
Then a sudden, "excruciating" abdominal pain doubled her over, and in an instant her life was changed forever.
The doctor's diagnosis: Crohn's disease, an illness that severely inflames the gastrointestinal tract and has no known cure or cause.
"You feel like your whole stomach is being stabbed," Kidd, now a student at South Arkansas Community College, said. The accompanying internal hemorrhaging is very frightening to experience, she said. When her condition was at its worst throughout her senior year, she would feel these pains 20 to 25 times a day, lose blood, seize in agony.
Yet the first thing that she uttered after being diagnosed with this lifelong illness was "Will I still be able to play?"
"Able" is a subjective word. Nobody would have expected it, and many probably wouldn't have suggested it, but play she did. As a result Kidd—described by her nurses as "tough as nails"—is being given the USA Today Inspiration Award, presented by the Army National Guard, back in her old high school gymnasium in Spring Hill on Wednesday. Each year the honor is bestowed on 14 high-school athletes nationwide who have overcome adversity to compete in their chosen sport.
To get to this point, the former Lady Bear center had to jump through more hoops than the team scored in its 30-2 season in 2012-2013. She said that she didn't want to miss out on contributing to what ended up being a landmark year.
"We were the best that ever came through Spring Hill," Kidd said.
So she fought through the pain, steadied herself against the weakness and played basketball to the best of her ability. It was anything but easy, according to her former basketball coach.
"Madison lost a lot of weight and was sick more than not," Laura Kidd said. (The two are not immediate family relatives.) "She went from a strong, healthy post player to a frail girl."
She missed 11 games and many weeks of school, but went to class and participated in practices as often as possible. She finished her senior year with a 4.0 grade-point average, often doing homework while waiting on treatment, or even during it. She made games even if that meant taking treatment in a basketball uniform so that she would be ready in time.
"I was in and out of hospitals, and as soon as I got out, I would be on the court playing ball," Madison Kidd said. "When I was playing, I'd have to play in spurts. I was weak the whole season, but I'd push through it."
Her team got a psychological lift whenever Madison made it to games, Laura Kidd said.
"Many games, Madison would come straight to a game after a treatment, running to the floor before tip off," she said. "It was like a weight was lifted when we all saw her! We knew she was OK if only for a short time.
"When Madison couldn't be with her team, we prayed for her and were reminded to be thankful for our blessing and work hard for those who weren't fortunate enough to be able to participate."
In one game she had to sit on the bench, too weak to play, wearing a medical mask to limit her weakened immune system to possible infection.
"She still supported her team," her coach said. "Madison has not only overcome physical and emotional obstacles related to her illness, she also was strong-willed enough to keep her team focused."
In another situation, coach Kidd felt that she had to relegate her center to the bench after she had taken a painful hit to the abdomen while experiencing a flare up. The player had wanted to continue.
"I couldn't bear the thought of her getting hit again, so I didn't play her much," Laura Kidd said. "She would play at any cost, if she thought her presence on the floor would help her team succeed."
As if the illness itself wasn't hard enough, Madison Kidd also battled difficult side effects that included powerful allergic reactions to steroid treatment. She went from being dramatically underweight to bloated with severe acne.
"I've had a reaction to everything I've taken," she said. "I felt ugly, I would cry. I was very emotional."
Thankfully, she said, the worst of her condition has subsided, at least for now. At one point Madison Kidd was taking 21 pills a day. Now she has treatment only monthly, for four or five hours at a time, at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. But unless medical science finds a cure she will, for the rest of her life, face the possibility of that familiar, agonizing pain.
"I hate to see her in pain and trying to adjust her life for this terrible illness. She continues to stay positive with all she endures," Laura Kidd said. "Rarely will you see her without a smile."
As a result of the disease, Madison Kidd had to give up her dream of playing college basketball, because as she put it, "God had other ideas."
She entered SouthArk in the fall, moving to El Dorado from her hometown in the Hope area, with thoughts of becoming a physical therapist assistant, taking the notion after a younger cousin required physical therapy.
"I wanted to help people like her," the student said. "I think that I'll be good at it because I can show patients that things get better.
"I love the school and I'm very happy with my decision."
Her old coach called her "a coach's dream," lauding her leadership and the example that she set for others. She said that she is unsurprised that her former player chose to pursue a degree field in which helping others is the central effort.
"Madison will, no doubt, be successful in all aspects of her life. She expects greatness in herself and others," Laura Kidd said. "I consider myself blessed to be part of her life and will always be proud of Madison. What an amazing young lady!"
Madison Kidd outside of the Health Science Center at South Arkansas Community College. The physical therapist assistant program is what drew her to the El Dorado college from her hometown of Spring Hill.