BAYSHORE BEAUTIFUL — Asked to speak about her greatest accomplishment, Leigh Ann Humphries told a room full of distinguished female leaders about how she awoke and brushed a fallen eyelash out of her eye.
It seemed like a meaningless motion for a healthy 17-year-old Berkeley Prep junior. But Humphries, one of 10 girls honored by the Athena Society as a Young Woman of Promise on April 3, explained that she doesn't take simple acts for granted after her father was diagnosed with ALS.
Leigh Ann explained that ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, took away J. Bob Humphries' law career, his golf obsession, even his ability to move, speak and swallow.
She recalled one particular night feeding her father cream of chicken soup. He began to blink furiously. He reached for a board and marker he used to communicate and began to write WA... She knew immediately he needed a wash cloth to wipe a fallen eyelash. After she gently washed his face, he wrote another message of love on the board.
"I learned from my father to live life in small moments," Leigh Ann said as people in the room dabbed their eyes. "These small moments are my greatest accomplishments.
"Stephen Hawking, who also has ALS, said, 'When one's expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.' "
Although Leigh Ann's father died just before her ninth-grade year, she has gone on to become an honor student and a tutor. An Alpha House and Metropolitan Ministries volunteer, Leigh Ann credits her mother, gastroenterologist Barbara Bachman, for being an inspiration.
Her accomplishments and story of perseverance led the Athena Society to choose Leigh Ann as a Young Woman of Promise. Since 1981, the prestigious group of professional leaders has honored high school juniors who are high academic achievers and leaders in their schools and the community.
Leigh Ann, who lives in Bayshore Beautiful, was composed as she shared her story with the Athena Society. In the audience sat Mayor Pam Iorio, former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Katherine Essrig, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Scriven and pediatrician Sylvia Richardson, who chaired the selection committee.
Other winners included Plant High's Alyssa Kahn, who lives on Davis Islands and detailed her inspiring research work at Moffitt Cancer Center. Kahn, the daughter of Susan and Randy Kahn, also volunteers at the Judeo Christian Health Clinic and the Suncoast Community Clinic in Ruskin and ranks second in her class.
Carmen Dickerson, another winner and a junior at Academy of the Holy Names, spoke of the inspiration she gained from her mother, Duquelia Cantero, who raised her as a single parent. Dickerson also shared stories about her role as a godmother.
Tampa Prep junior Taylor Ann Richardson, one of the captains on the state champion Terrapins soccer team, spoke of her involvement with the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership program and how she was humbled by meeting a blind student from Ethiopia who taught himself how to read braille and play the piano.
Iorio closed out the luncheon with words of inspiration, telling the audience about Fanny Lou Hamer, a black Mississippi sharecropper with no formal education who rose to become one of the most influential voices of the civil rights movement.
But Iorio conceded these girls needed no real motivation or direction.
"I really feel the world is in good hands with all of you," she beamed.