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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Former Norwell star Haley Chaney says her new calling is to use her experiences to help others in need.

A survivor’s mission

Former Norwell athlete’s new role is helping others in need

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Chaney played basketball and volleyball at Norwell.

– Haley Chaney was at Starbucks recently and saw a familiar face. It wasn’t someone she knew, but it was someone she had seen on television or in the newspaper and only knew a little of his story. So the former Norwell girls basketball player decided to introduce herself because, in a way, she felt a kinship with the person.

The quick chat was with Canterbury junior Austin Hatch, a talented basketball player whose life has been turned upside-down and inside-out over the last couple of years after he survived a plane accident in June 2011 that cost him his father, stepmother and a year of high school.

“I had no idea what I was going to say, but I didn’t care,” Chaney, 21, said, recalling the conversation in an email. “I just wanted to talk to him about basketball because it was clearly a common love in both of our eyes. So when he was walking out, I said ‘hi’ and started a conversation with him. I talked to him very briefly about what occurred in my life and how I have learned so much, and I am so excited for God to teach him through this experience.”

Hatch has recently returned to the basketball court in limited practice situations with the goal of getting back to playing actual games for the Cavaliers. But the injuries suffered in the accident might have cost the Michigan recruit a chance to ever play in college.

“I started tearing up because although our situations are so different, they are so much the same,” she said.

Chaney’s conversation was just a part of what she calls her new calling, so she can use her unfortunate circumstances to help others in need. Chaney is a survivor herself and wants to help others such as Hatch, maybe even Hatch himself.

An all-around athlete who played basketball and volleyball at Norwell, Chaney was seriously injured in a car crash in February 2008. The wreck occurred near Norwell en route to dinner to celebrate her 17th birthday with a friend. The car went out of control on a slick road and hit a school bus.

Chaney suffered a near-fatal brain injury and was in the hospital for two weeks. She went through rehabilitation before returning to school and eventually to the volleyball court wearing special headgear. She only made a brief appearance in basketball.

The years after the accident have given Chaney perspective on life that few people have. After spending some time in college at Indiana Wesleyan and Taylor, she is on a sabbatical from school and living with Paige Clingenpeel’s family in Fort Wayne.

Clingenpeel is a counselor she met at Taylor and is now practically a sister to Chaney. She’s also Chaney’s inspiration for what comes next in life.

“I never had that passion before my car accident and all of the emotional disabilities that I have experienced post-accident,” Chaney said of counseling. “So I know that God has something big planned for my future. I am so relational, and I love helping hurting people find hope and guide them to a place of healing and restoration. Counseling seemed perfect, and it was my dream. However, I felt like God was telling me to take a step back from school and re-evaluate what He desires for me to do with my life.”

Chaney has been acting as almost a big sister and nanny to Clingenpeel’s three children, all under the age of 6. Clingenpeel is pregnant with a fourth child.

“I was abundantly blessed to meet Paige, and I am not sure where I would be without her,” Chaney said. “A majority of the time I am babysitting the kids, cleaning the house … but honestly I could not be happier. I absolutely love serving this family.”

Chaney has taken her calling to video with a Remedy Live daily program on the Internet called “The Gong Show,” which includes music and testimonials geared toward teenagers. She has also done inspirational 20-minute videos for youth pastors on dealing with struggles with youth and how to address those situations, as well as an interview with Mitch Kruse on www.therestorationroad.com.

“I am seriously blown away at the opportunities that God has blessed me with,” she said. “For so long, it has been about ‘me’ and about what ‘I’ went through. But now, I am at a place where I am finally realizing what a miracle God performed in my life. If I could go back to the way things were before the accident, if I could trade this life that I have now for the one that I had before and erase all of the struggles, hardship and pain … I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

gjones@jg.net

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