As a longtime sports journalist in the Washington, D.C. area, Fairmont State University graduate Donna Hopkins has conducted numerous interviews and told countless stories.
Ironically, it's Hopkins' own life story that may be the most interesting and compelling one.
Hopkins, a native of Oak Hill, recently returned to Fairmont State's campus to take part in the annual FSU Lady Falcons' Alumni Basketball Game. The former standout in both track and women's basketball at Fairmont State still ranks 22nd all-time in school history in career points scored with 1,007.
On this particular Saturday, though, Hopkins didn't participate in the game, but instead helped coach the Maroon to a 56-40 victory. It's not because she didn't want to be out there either. She did.
Donna Hopkins has never boxed, but she's one of the toughest fighters one could ever meet. A two-time survivor of breast cancer, Hopkins in 2010 had to have the lower portion of her left leg amputated below the knee. The double bout with cancer and the harrowing experience of having to have a body part amputated understandably would have shaken the psyche and dimmed the spirits of most individuals. But not Hopkins, who remains positive, upbeat, incredibly active and a constant inspiration to those fortunate enough to know her.
“No one ever said life was going to be fair,” said the 53-year-old Hopkins with a smile. “You're going to be faced with challenges in life and it's how you handle those challenges and deal with them that help define you as a person. I've always been a very positive person.”
“Sure, when I first developed breast cancer I was upset, down and feeling a bit sorry for myself but I didn't let that feeling last very long. I said to myself 'The fight is on.' That was 1997 and in 1999 I had another bout with cancer and again I faced it head on and with a positive attitude. I also thought a lot about what I could do to help people in similar situations. I was fortunate enough to have excellent health insurance, but a lot of people aren't.”
Thus, Hopkins founded Hopkins Breast Cancer, Inc. The mission of the organization is to provide financial assistance to women and men in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area who are under-served, uninsured, or otherwise have insufficient financial means after being diagnosed with breast cancer; and to educate the community on the value of early detection.
“I'm very proud of what we're doing with Hopkins Breast Cancer, Inc.,” she said. “There's a lot of people who need help playing bills, paying the rent, paying co-pays and even just putting food on the table. I've even gone to appointments with people I really don't even know just to provide them with support. Once you've had cancer there's a bond that forms with other cancer patients. We're like a family.”
“We hold an annual basketball tournament every September and we have a golf tournament to help raise funds for the organization. I'm just happy that I'm able to give something back to the community.”
Hopkins has covered a variety of sports in the Washington, D.C. area during her career as a journalist from NBA Basketball, to track and field and college football, but her main job and undeniable passion is covering the NFL's Washington Redskins. She currently serves as a co-host and sports reporter for Tony McGee's Pro Football Plus television show on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
“My job is like a dream come true for me,” said Hopkins. “As a little girl I grew up cheering for the Redskins and now to have the opportunity to cover them is just incredible. I really enjoy my work.”
In 2010 Hopkins went into the hospital for what was deemed routine female surgery. She was expected to stay five days to have fibroid tumors removed. Instead, six surgeries, three hospitals and two-and-a-half months later Hopkins, who was on the brink of death, emerged without her lower left leg and facing a whole new series of challenges.
“At first it seemed like everything was okay and they were about to release me, but they thought I might be bleeding internally so they took me back into surgery,” said Hopkins. “That wasn't the case. Then after about five days I started getting really sick and my foot was feeling numb and my toes were turning purple. I went back into surgery because they felt my upper intestine might be blocked. It wasn't. Then they suspected a possible blood clot, but it wasn't showing.”
“It turned out it was a blood clot and it almost killed me. I remember being in the operating room and grabbing a person's arm when they were trying to work the clot out and feeling like I couldn't breathe. I thought I was going to take my last breath. It was incredibly scary. I thought this might be it for me. When I read my reports now I see where it says I literally almost died a couple of times. It was just a terrible situation.”
The blood clot ended up costing Hopkins a portion of her lower left leg, but it could have been worse. She almost ended up losing her hands as well, but they were able to be saved.
“I tell people if you want to see a miracle look no further than me,” said Hopkins with a big smile. “I know my faith got me through that ordeal, but I also believe being an athlete helped me as well. I'm incredibly competitive. I do not like to lose and I think my willingness to fight and to battle helped me as well.”
“You know any time you hear news like we're going to have to take a portion of your leg it hits you pretty hard. I was a little out of it, but I'm sure I cried some. It wasn't long, though. I just told myself 'I'm lucky to be alive and the fight is on.'”
Hopkins was released from the hospital in August of 2010 and was back covering the Redskins in training camp that same month in a wheelchair. She went through physical therapy at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and was fitted for several different prosthetic legs that allow her to do different things.
One of her most recent undertakings has been rowing and it's a sport she's gotten very good at very quickly. In fact, she hopes to compete in rowing and possibly other sports at the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Someone over at Walter Reed suggested that I get involved in rowing and I told them I don't even swim and they said it didn't matter,” said Hopkins with a laugh. “I ended up just going out to test it out and see if I would like it. Next thing you know I was locked in and competing. I won a gold medal and a silver medal in Philadelphia at a competition and I've had some first places in events around Washington.”
“My goal is to make it to the Paralympics in 2016. I couldn't get there on two good legs so I'm going to try to make it on one. I also play wheelchair basketball because basketball is still such a passion for me and I'd like to try volleyball. Even if I don't make it to the Paralympics it won't be because I didn't try. I plan on doing everything I possibly can these next two to three years to get my name on the radar.”
Hopkins is also in the process of writing a book about her experiences and how she has managed to deal with them in such a positive manner.
“For me it's the fact that I love life too much and I'm too competitive to let things get me down or rob me of living life as fully as I can,” she said. “I could have two losses right now with the cancer and losing my leg and I could've just said 'You know life's just been too tough on me' and people would understand that. But that's not me. I don't have any quit in me. God must have put a fight in me from day one when I came out of my mom's womb.”
“I tell people all of the time that I'm the winner in life and I'm getting the gold medal in life. When I look over my body I see the battle wounds and scars from life and what I've gone through. Those are just reminders to me of what I can do and what I can accomplish.”
“It's not all about me either. I love helping people and if I can inspire someone to do something or make a difference in some area that's great. I live my life to the fullest and if I die tomorrow I want people to say 'Wow, Donna surely did live life to the fullest and she made a difference in life for people.'”
Donna Hopkins, without question, has indeed done that.