March 27, 2013

Recipient credits NJC for making a huge difference in her life

By Barbara Baker

It was a unanimous decision that Camion Horton (center left) receive the 2013 Andi Whitlock Heart Award at Northeastern Junior College this year. Here, teammates and coaches gather around her as Amber Whitlock (center right) helps present the award in her twin sister’s honor.

It was a unanimous decision that Camion Horton (center left) receive the 2013 Andi Whitlock Heart Award at Northeastern Junior College this year. Here, teammates and coaches gather around her as Amber Whitlock (center right) helps present the award in her twin sister’s honor. (Courtesy Photo)

In 2011, Camion Horton kissed her mother, Valerie Sellers, goodbye and boarded a bus bound for Colorado. This Albemarie, North Carolina student had found a little rural college located in Sterling and she was headed west to start a new life on a campus she’d never seen, in a town she’d never been.  For Horton, it has been perhaps one of the greatest experiences of her life.  At the 19th Annual Hoops Homecoming on the campus of Northeastern Junior College, she was named the 2013 recipient of the Andi Whitlock Heart Award. 

This award is given to the female basketball team member who most resembles the persona of Whitlock, a former player from Stoneham, Colorado. Whitlock played at Northeastern in 2001-2003 and was on the team that went to nationals in 2003. One year later, she died from injuries suffered in an automobile wreck. Her family established this award in her honor.  For the first time in the award’s history, this year’s winner is a team manager and statistician rather than an on-the court player.

Usually voted on by the entire team, this year the award was not decided by a team vote, but rather an overwhelming consensus. “Without taking a vote, we knew Camion was most like Andi and she was by far the person that represented the award with a positive attitude, work ethic, friendship, and dedication to the program,” said retiring head coach Darrel Parker.  Assistant coach Dave Huss agrees, adding, “When we told the team that we wanted the award to go to Camion, they couldn’t have been in more agreement. They all knew she was the most deserving.”  Horton has, without a doubt – been a huge example of competiveness, spirit, desire and toughness, just as Andi Whitlock was. 

Coming to Northeastern was not easy for Camion. “I'm a city girl who wanted to experience a new walk of life, see a new culture and I stumbled across NJC one day while browsing the Internet,” she says. “I graduated from Albemarie High School in 2009 and I was just bumbling around, sometimes getting caught up in the wrong crowds because I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do with my life.”  Despite her antics, she says her mom never turned her back on her, constantly encouraging her to be better, to do better.

After numerous phone calls back and forth to Northeastern and according to Horton, lots of prayer, she made the decision to come to Colorado. “I had this feeling that Colorado is where I needed to be. I prayed about it and the answer was always yes to come,“ she tells. With her mom’s blessing, they purchased a bus ticket. This was just the beginning of what has  been a marvelous journey, yet a tough row to hoe.

Horton arrived in Sterling a little bit ahead of the start of the fall 2011 semester in hopes of finding a job before the other students all got here. “When I got here I didn't have a place to live on campus yet, so I made friends and stayed in different rooms every night until I could work and get up the money to pay my room deposit. I took out loans to pay for the rest of my classes and my room and board,” she explains. Her ‘can do’ attitude and obvious work ethic was noticed quickly and landed her several on campus options. She was invited to work at a resident assistant in Blue Spruce Hall and she was also invited to serve as a manager for the women’s basketball team. She took all offers.  Later, she would discover that she had overcommitted herself and all the work was negatively affecting her academics. She had to give up something.

Although the resident assistant job would pay her room and board, she was by now in love with the athletic department, the players and the coaches and she chose to stay with them. The athletic program came up with a small scholarship for Camion, but not nearly enough to pay her out-of-state expenses. “I have faced many hardships in paying for my education here but I am disciplined enough to know that I have to work for what I want, I’ve had to work to stay. I wouldn't change any of this,” Horton says. “I've worked my butt off to pay nearly $8,000 out of pocket for my education here.  I’ve learned however, that people truly do help those who are willing to help themselves.  I came here for an education and I'm leaving with that plus a lot of love. Sterling has a special place in my heart. These low plains and small roads have been the avenue to some pretty significant personal growth for me.”

Horton faithfully showed up at team practices and made all of the games where she took her place at the announcers table as a statistician for both the men’s and women’s games. Coach Huss says that she is one of the most positive people he knows. “I like her toughness and her attitude,” he said. “She actually did some on-court coaching for us these last six months. She was our motivator. She would send out text quotes before a game and they were uplifting to all of us.” This is all pretty amazing considering that she loved and played volleyball in high school. She didn’t convert to a real basketball fan until she got to Northeastern.

Perhaps much of the irony in this whole scenario is that Horton has some very personal challenges of her own. She calls herself a cancer survivor.  She has battled a war with a brain tumor since the seventh grade and has been winning.  A significant scar down the back side of her neck is a constant reminder of where’s she been.  It gives her a different perspective on life.  And, as she has learned recently, her battle is not over. The tumor has returned.  While she has to go through the medical motions to deal with this unwelcome guest again, she believes education can, will and should be her diversion.

“I proudly wear the brain tumor survivor tattoo on my arm as a reminder that worse is possible, but giving the greatest within oneself is expected,” Horton shares. “Because of those three years, ten months, and eleven days I learned that it’s not just about living a meaningful life, but living those days that are to come with a meaningful life towards others,” she says, referring to  the long days she spent in a very elite hospital in Durham, North Carolina trying to get well the first time.

Horton truly considers her mother to be her hero. “I was raised by a single parent that didn't graduate from high school but serves as the most intelligent person I know.” Horton will move on after she graduates from NJC this spring. “My major is chemical engineering. I am currently choosing between Colorado State University and the University of Toledo at Ohio.” She is so thankful for what has happened to her while she has been at Northeastern. "North Carolina raised me, Colorado helped me, NJC shaped me, Coach Parker and Coach Huss challenged me, former and present players loved me. NJC is truly amazing!

“Each morning that I rise as a healthy young woman I stretch my arms to the heavens and thank God for the opportunity, for the additional time and for the warrior inside me. My approach toward my educational endeavors is forever positive and uplifting. NJC has given me the chance to showcase my intelligent abilities, share my story at times, make certain others’ happiness is kept up and to make sure that others are not taking life for granted. These textbooks and classrooms have been my stage and I feel endlessly indebted to them. I am here. I am living!”