By Bobbie Poynter
It was ‘all hands on deck’ Friday night at Sheer Vixen Salon as Kristy Cole and her staff cleared their schedules to give beauty makeovers to two Knox Middle School teens about to go out on the night of their lives.
Thirteen-year-old Harley Laxton and her best friend, Emma Nottingham, were getting all decked out for Knox County Middle School’s “A Night in Alaska” dance.
The daughter of an Army serviceman, Harley and her family moved to Anchorage, Alaska, when she was only three years old. There she spent eight glorious years.
The family moved to Barbourville in October 2012 and Harley attended grade school at Girdler Elementary.
In November 2013, the young girl was diagnosed with a seven-inch malignant tumor on her spine and as been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
A former cross-country runner with the Knox Central High School team, the wheelchair hasn’t slowed Harley in the least. She has diligently remained a Straight A student and over the summer she attended Indian Summer Camp in Northern Kentucky for kids diagnosed with cancer. There, she caught a whopping 32 fish, the most fish in one day. She also joined her family on a Disney cruise in August, bought and paid for by a North Carolina couple w ho had heard about Harley’s condition and wanted to do something nice for her.
In the three years since Harley returned to the “Lower 48,” she has kept in constant contact with her friends in Alaska via Skype and Facetime. Special amongst her Alaskan friends is her boyfriend Sawyer Gerondale, who, with his parents’ permission, jumped on a plane bound for Kentucky so he could join his girlfriend at her special dance the minute he got the word.
“It just felt right,” said Gerondale of his split-second decision to join his friend in Kentucky after only hearing about the dance two days before. “Harley and I are as close as friends can get. I felt I needed to be here, I wanted her to know that someone cares and that someone loves her.”
On Thursday, Harley and her family were picking Sawyer up at the Lexington airport, just in time to make it back for Knox Central’s Cross Country banquet, where Harley was presented with an award for courage.
Come Friday evening, Sawyer was still by her side as Harley joined her friend, Emma, at the salon for their makeovers.
As the girls’ moms looked on, salon staff wasted no time in dolling up the girls in completely new hairstyles, makeup, nails and even new dresses.
Thanks to the generosity of the Barbourville community, the teens’ makeovers, their beautiful new dresses and accessories, and even the limousine that transported them to the dance cost them absolutely nothing.
“We wanted to make this night a magical experience for her,” said Kristy Cole, owner of Sheer Vixon. “We wanted Harley and Emma to feel like princesses, primped and pampered, the complete salon experience with the works. I think we succeeded. They were so grateful, and it truly touched me and my staff.”
Vandy Laxton’s eyes lit up as she watched her daughter’s transformation, sharing in her excitement and anticipation of the big night.
“This is absolutely amazing,” said Vandy Laxton. “What else can you say? We have been truly blessed. It’s so amazing how one little community can come together so quickly to do this. It doesn’t feel real. It’s a dream come true for Harley.”
Recently, the Make-A-Wish Foundation offered Harley Laxton the chance to return to Alaska, and the trip has been scheduled for shortly after the New Year. However, after hearing all Harley’s wonderful stories about Alaska, the school decided to beat the organization to the punch and give Harley a taste of Alaska here at home.
“This was a chance for her classmates and teachers to share in her upcoming trip to Alaska,” said Harley’s mom.
There was hardly a dry eye in the building as Harley rolled into the Knox County Middle School gym. Harley herself teared up as she drank in the sparkling beauty of “Alaska,” it’s snowcapped mountains, the beautifully lit evergreens, and the multitude of snowflakes ‘falling from the sky.” Completing the Alaskan theme, even the chairs surrounding the tables were transparent and reminded the dancegoers of ice sculptures.
“I was amazed at how close it all felt to the real thing,” said Haley. “And it was so great to have Sawyer at my side. I can’t believe after all these years that we still love each other.”
When the D.J. began playing “My Girl” and Sawyer escorted his girlfriend onto the dance floor, the tears around the room poured.
Brittany Smith, organizer of the evening’s event, described the occasion as magical.
“It was so exciting to see the smile on both Haley’s and Sawyer’s faces,” said Smith. “It was all just as it was supposed to be.”
Indeed, Harley Laxton, was given the royal treatment that night, and she, in turn, took it all in with the grace of a royal princess, spending the evening with so many people whose lives and hearts the brave young woman had touched.
Harley summed up her feelings.
“I feel like the luckiest girl in the whole wide world because of what everyone has done for me.”