Tough As Nails, Heart Of Gold

Athlete's courage during tough times inspires all around her

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The courage Kendra Francis has shown in the face of adversity is an inspiration to all who know the 17-year-old Payson High School senior.

"We all admire her for how brave she is with everything," said longtime friend Danielle O'Haver.

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Kendra Francis has built a reputation at Payson High School and in the community as an inspirational and courageous teenager.

Charlene Hunt, Francis' supervisor at the Payson Parks and Recreation Department, agrees.

"Kendra is a great kid -- a teenager we all admire," Hunt said.

The adoration that flows Francis' way is partly due to the lion-hearted way the teen has dealt with the setbacks she's recently faced.

The toughest blow was the loss of her mother to cancer about two years ago.

"That was devastating, a real hard loss," Francis said. "I don't know if you ever get over that."

Lady Longhorn basketball coach Rory Huff remembers the afternoon practice when Francis learned her mom had died.

"It was devastating for everyone of us, especially Kendra, in that gym," he said. "It was something you don't forget."

Francis' mom's death, however, isn't the only hurdle she's had to clear.

As a junior, while playing soccer, she tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL ) in her knee.

"It was very painful," she said. "I heard it pop and I knew it was serious."

Weeks later, she underwent knee surgery and had a ligament from a cadaver inserted into the damaged knee joint.

After more than a year of extensive rehabilitation, Francis was anxiously looking forward, last winter, to her senior season on the Lady Longhorn basketball team.

But early in the campaign, she reinjured the knee and was sidelined for about six games.

"I kept thinking, ‘all that work and for nothing'," she said.

Although her doctor's advice was to have a second surgery right away, she knew it would mean she'd never play another high school basketball game.

"And basketball is my favorite sport," she said.

So, she opted to put off the surgery until summer, rehab the knee, and return to the team.

Through sheer determination, she was soon back in the lineup and contributing to the Lady Horn cause.

"Most kids would have never come back," coach Rory Huff said. "That showed her heart, desire and character."

Following the comeback, Francis struggled while playing with a cumbersome knee brace. She said the experience convinced her to have the surgery.

"I think I'll go ahead and get it, but this time doctors will probably use part of my hamstring for the graft," she said.

The heartbreaking loss of her mother and the debilitating knee injuries were cruel blows along the road of life, but Francis has continued on with remarkable resilience and spunk.

She's an honor student at PHS, works afternoons and weekends for the parks and recreation department and helps care for her brother Charlie, 6, and sister Kayla, 13.

"I try to watch after them and be sure they get to where they should be and on time," Francis said.

Her efforts at school, work and at home haven't gone unnoticed.

"We all know she's there to help her dad (Ken) look after the children," Hunt said. "And here at the parks and rec department she's one of the best. She just floated to the top right away."

Payson High School computers teacher Jerry Daniels lauds Francis' character, cooperation and academic achievement.

"She's just a good kid, well liked and an excellent student," he said.

Francis takes the praise heaped on her in stride. She said she's simply trying to endure all that's been dealt her.

"Sometimes it gets tough, but I've got my dad to help me," she said. "I am very proud of him. He's done a lot for his family."

With graduation from PHS just over the horizon, Francis has set her sights on enrolling in a Valley area community college, possibly Mesa, for her first two years of study.

She has tentative plans to share an apartment with O'Haver and another friend while in college.

O'Haver said having Francis as a roommate would be a treat.

"She's a wonderful person and a great friend."

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