ELIZABETHTON, TN - Selena Hayes wasn't supposed to be a part of Liberty! the Official Outdoor Drama of Tennessee.
In fact, it wasn't expected that the 10-year-old daughter of Sheila and Harold Hayes of Jonesborough would be a part of very much, and certainly nothing strenuous.
But when the production begins its three-week run at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area on July 14, 2011, Selena will be front and center, having "the time of her life," herself a living inspiration amid the rich and inspiring heritage of Northeast Tennessee.
Sheila Hayes was 20 weeks pregnant when she received the tragic news: the child she was carrying had hypoplastic left heart syndrome – a heart with only two chambers, rather than the normal four.
The shock was harsh for the young mother-to-be. "It was very difficult to deal with. I was very angry for a long time," Sheila said.
A long and rocky road awaited Selena and her mother. The first of three open-heart surgeries was performed when the child was four days old.
"We we were told that, more than likely, it would not be a good outcome," Sheila says quietly.
Luckily, no one informed Selena.
She survived the second operation when she was eight months old, and then a third at age 4.
"This three-stage surgery has really been a breakthrough," Sheila says, her characteristic smile returning to her face. "About all I know to say is that they basically rerouted her plumbing to where her two-chamber heart is doing everything a four-chamber heart would do. Still, we were told she wouldn't run, that she wouldn't have any energy. It just wasn't going to happen."
Fortunately, young Selena was not impressed with her diagnosis. Neither was God – He had other plans.
"Ever since the kids were small, we have taken them to outdoor dramas, and to Barter," Sheila said. Selena and her 13-year-old brother, Malachi, are students at Providence Academy in Johnson City, Tenn.
"My kids love to go to plays. We've been over to Cherokee and to Liberty!" It didn't surprise Sheila and Harold that their children enjoyed the show. "They love the theater," Sheila said.
What was unexpected was Selena's announcement, standing near the edge of the Fort Watauga Amphitheater stage: "I want to be in it."
Sure enough, the next night, the aspiring young actress was costumed and ready. Unfortunately, the excitement was just a bit too much – "she was scared to death of the Indians and the gunfire" – and Harold and Sheila took her home.
One might have thought the experiment was over, and it might have been – for a lesser person than Selena Hayes.
The following night, she was in the fort early, dressed and ready to go again. From the stands, her mother and father wept as their daughter swept onto the stage, smiling brightly. This night she would make it all the way through.
"She is such a blessing. She is a testimony to what the Lord does," Sheila said. "She is so full of life. She will go around the house, singing hymns. She brings joy to us. More than anything, I hope she gives other people hope. If another family has the same diagnosis, and they could see her, then I know it would give them hope."
"I'm very glad I came here," Selena says, smiling brightly. "This is so much fun. But I have to go," she says, turning quickly. "I have to get where I'm supposed to be."
"It is an honor to have Selena here," said SSSHA Manager Jennifer Bauer. "There are no words to fully express the pride we all feel. It inspires us when we watch these beautiful young people, and how much interest they take in these stories, and the pride they have for what we're doing. It just re-invigorates all of us."
Selena is a direct descendant of Col. Andrew Hampton, the heroic frontier figure who helped organize and direct the legendary attack of the Overmountain Men at King's Mountain. The stunning victory, generally considered the turning point of the American Revolution, is the crescendo point of Liberty!
During one of this year's performances, Selena will be joined in costume by her mother and grandmother, Janie Simmons, marking three generations of Hampton's family gathered upon the historic ground where he and other patriots once themselves walked.
"It is the kind of thing that you never forget," Sheila said. "It gives you cold chills to think about all that happened there, and how much it has meant to this region and to the entire country."
And, thanks to God, and a determined heart, a young patriot named Selena Hayes will be out front, right where she's supposed to be.
(Liberty! runs July 14-30, 2011, beginning nightly at 7:30 in the Fort Watauga Amphitheater at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton. For more information, call 423-543-5808 or visit www.liberty-drama.com)