Hailey Leeking, a North Central senior and future Eastern Washington University Eagle, has a couple of hidden interests, according to her aunt Karen Hughes.
“She’s a country girl,” Hughes said in a phone interview. “She likes the rodeo; she likes the cowboys.”
The second? A love for singing.
“I really think part of her wanted to be a singer,” Hughes said.
A career in show business wouldn’t catch Hughes by surprise, describing her niece as an entertainer during Leeking’s formative years.
So when her mother, JoAnne Leeking, died suddenly last spring due to a congenital heart defect, Leeking clung to their favorite memories together, including family road trips and entertaining one another with humor. Well, maybe the comedy wasn’t always a two-way street between her and her mother.
“(I remember) jokes that I made that she didn’t think were funny,” Leeking said in a phone interview. “I always just remember the look she gave me.”
During a period of grieving, Leeking leaned on Hughes as a source of strength. Hearing that, her aunt was taken aback, joking that she “felt so useless” and to this day struggles to “fill that void” left by Leeking’s mother.
Following the death of her mother, Leeking has focused on the controllables in her life, maintaining a 3.8 GPA while also setting personal bests this spring in the shot put, hammer throw and javelin. But she won’t pick a favorite event.
“If one goes farther than the other, then that’s my favorite,” she joked.
“Her mom was her biggest fan, especially with sports,” Hughes said. “There was some concern (as to) whether she would stay on track after my sister passed, (but) Hailey sure is keeping that bar high.”
In the classroom, Leeking singled out math and creative writing as her favorite subjects. Creative writing for the freedom it provides, math for the problem-solving skills it builds.
Don’t expect Leeking to pursue a career in either one, though. With two cousins on track to become nurses, Leeking intends to follow suit, explaining that she wants to “make a difference in someone’s life.”
As both a high-level student and athlete, Leeking’s success is rooted in unwavering confidence and a tenacious work ethic.
“I’ve noticed through high school, she never falls into peer pressure,” Hughes said. “She has high standards for herself; she has goals and dreams, and she works hard to pursue them. I sit back and I watch her and … I’m just amazed at Hailey, how she stays strong and doesn’t fall into any of that.”
Headed to Eastern as a member of the Eagles’ track and field team, fulfilling a childhood goal of becoming a Division I athlete, Leeking aims to keep close tabs on her 15-year-old brother, Nathan Leeking, and his sporting endeavors.
“Their relationship is really beautiful,” Hughes said. “I have five kids, and I don’t even know if any of my five kids have that close-knit connection like Hailey and Nate do.”
Jackson Frank is a student at Gonzaga University.