A small, metal lapel pin of a silhouetted child shone under the stadium lights as Hailey stepped onto the field and in front of a deafening crowd. That logo of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital had grown to mean so much to Hailey. A symbol of her struggles. A reminder of all those friends she held close, and lost, during the difficult days of treatment.
She would have never come to Foxboro, Mass., to Gillette Stadium, never agreed to perform the national anthem for a national television audience, without that pin.
Hailey wanted everyone to hear her voice, to witness her triumph and, importantly, demonstrate the hope symbolized by that simple piece of metal.
The stadium was packed for a repeat of the 2017 Super Bowl – the New England Patriots versus the Atlanta Falcons – making it the kind of moment that tests the nerves of even seasoned musicians.
“Ten minutes,” the stage manager said, his hand extended in an unspoken request for Hailey’s phone. There would be no interruptions during the biggest performance of her life.
Her lips managed a half-smile.
Moments earlier, on the walk out of the tunnel and onto the field, a voice from the stands bellowed encouragement.
“You got this girl!”
Hailey never doubted that. “I’m really not nervous, I promise,” she’d tell anyone who’d ask in the months leading to this moment.
She’d been preparing most of her life, singing happy tunes to her mother’s camcorder long before she lost her first tooth, wowing crowds at backyard barbecues in the neighborhood, winning the approval of talent show judges across Florida.
Hailey was always singing. Even cancer couldn’t silence her. Not her first bout with acute myeloid leukemia, and not when the disease returned.
She’d sung for the hospital staff on her final day of treatment, and wouldn’t be intimidated by the 66,000 fans or the overpowering beat pulsating through the sound system.
Hailey pulled in a deep breath. Then another.
She clutched the microphone with one hand, and with the other confidently patted that symbol of so much strength and determination – her St. Jude lapel pin.
Another remarkable milestone in a young life. Another victory.