Libby Ledford is a competitor. If you ask her, she will admit she doesn’t like losing.
The 16-year-old Central Montcalm sophomore never liked losing to her older brother, Lane. The siblings enjoy competing in pick-up games of basketball in the driveway.
She’s just as competitive in drag racing in the summer as well as on the court for the Green Hornets basketball. She is a second-year starter for the varsity team.
“I like winning. I’m very competitive,” Ledford said. “I’m not a very good loser at all. Our team isn’t good at losing, actually.”
Last year, Ledford was one of four freshmen players to be moved up to varsity and started, along with teammates, Kiara Wernette, Hannah Putnam and Kiley Guelzo.
With the four freshmen playing on the varsity team along with upperclassmen like Kenzie Rutz, the Green Hornets won 12 games. It was the first time the Central Montcalm girls basketball program had a record better than .500 in 20 years, according to coach Rob Putnam.
“I started taking my daughter (Hannah Putnam) and the other girls to AAU games in fourth grade. Libby was ahead of her class at the time,” Putnam said. “So I knew how that group was going to be. She stuck out as a leader of the group.”
This year, the team has already matched last year’s record, establishing a 12-4 record, and has its sights set high.
“We want to go really far in districts, hopefully make it to regionals. We want to go as far as we possibly can,” Ledford said. “The seniors are good at leading and making us want it even more, for them and for us.”
Rutz, one of the senior leaders on this year’s team, said there was no contention with having freshmen come in and start on the team last year.
“Rob said we’d go through learning curves, and I never doubted his decision,” Rutz said. “I knew the talent they had, but we had to learn and find chemistry. It didn’t take long to mesh, though.”
Ledford, one of her best friends, has been an important part of the team’s recent success, Rutz added.
“Libby is everything. She gets along with everyone,” she said. “She’s so selfless. I’ve never played with anyone as talented as her. She’s is a lot of fun to play with.”
DIFFERENT BUT STILL THE SAME
At a young age, Ledford had a competitive drive, even when it came to a life-altering situation.
Ledford remembers a trip to Pittsburgh with her father, Jeff, when she was about 8 years old. The father and daughter were competing in a drag racing event.
She remembers feeling a bit off.
“That weekend I constantly drank water, ate like crazy and I was constantly going to the bathroom,” Ledford said. “I got home that Monday, and that night I was just acting funky. I was throwing up and breathing funny. You could actually hear me breathing from the other end of the house.”
Her mother, Denise, saw a change in her daughter when Libby returned from the trip.
“I hadn’t seen her in five days, so when I saw her, I thought she’d had grown. But, instead, she lost weight,” Denise said. “She had lost eight pounds in five days.”
When Libby’s health didn’t improve the next morning, Denise decided to take her to the hospital.
“She was quite a trooper,” Denise said of her daughter. “They tried to get a vein at the hospital, poked her 50 times to get an IV in. They had to get fluid in her first before treating her. She’s a very strong girl, she never cried once. It was amazing.”
Libby was eventually transferred to DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids due to high blood sugar and was admitted to an intensive care unit.
By the time the Ledfords came home, Libby’s life would change, as would the family’s, as all of them would begin to adjust to Libby’s new lifestyle of living with type 1 diabetes.
“I didn’t know much about diabetes at first. No one in my family had it,” Denise said. “I didn’t know there was type 1 or type 2. It was a learning curve for all of us. It didn’t just happen to her. It happened to all of us.”
Type 1 diabetes means the pancreas is no longer capable of producing insulin, while type 2 is marked by both insulin resistance (the body is resistant to the insulin it produces) and insulin deficiency (the body produces some insulin but not enough to overcome insulin resistance).
Libby now is equipped with a “pod,” or more specifically, an Omnipod, which is a wearable, lightweight pump that delivers insulin to her body, giving her a steady drip every hour of every day. She gives herself a little more insulin for her food carbs.
“It doesn’t have any wires or anything. It’s waterproof,” Libby explains. “Every time I eat, I just have to type in carbs to it and it automatically figures out how much insulin I need and I just type it in and I’m good to go.”
Since her diagnosis, Libby and her family have had to learn about counting carbohydrates, learning how insulin affects the body and how much of it is needed daily. She’s had to learn about nutrition and the amount of sugars in the food she eats.
More importantly, she has learned that she can live her life with diabetes, not just live with diabetes.
“It hasn’t altered my life much really. I still do everything I did back then,” she said. “You can eat whatever you want. Nothing really affects me.”
Denise has always been proud of her daughter and how she has handled her diabetes.
“We, and Libby, have never looked at diabetes as a disability. She proves (that) to us every day that it does not slow you down,” Denise said. “She always gives 110 percent. She is such a positive young lady dealing with this and it makes her family very proud. I feel she is a great role model for type 1 diabetes.”
Putnam would agree, saying she lives life so well it would be impossible for anyone to know she has diabetes.
“You wouldn’t know it. She takes care of it. She take care of herself so well,” Putnam said. “I’ve known Libby since she was 4 years old. For the most part, she handles it well, during the highs and lows.”
Rutz said she doesn’t see her friend as someone with diabetes. All she see is her friend.
“I’ve known her forever. Being around her, you completely forget she has it,” Rutz said. “She’s always on top of it. Whether she has it or not, though, it doesn’t matter. Libby is Libby.”
For the past five years, Central Montcalm has held an event at a boys and girls basketball game called Orange Out, which raises funds and awareness of type 1 diabetes.
This year, Orange Out will be Friday, when both the girls and boys team play Big Rapids.
“It started as a spaghetti dinner, but now we do it throughout the games,” Putnam said. “We have all those kids come out on the court before the game, recognize them.”
Putnam wasn’t sure why orange has been used to symbolize the event, as the national diabetes awareness color is blue, however, one website, called DiabetesSisters, says orange is fitting for women with diabetes, as it is considered a powerful but healing color and invokes enthusiasm, happiness, strength and endurance.
Both teams, as well as many of the hometown fans will be donned in orange on Friday, with the girls game beginning at 6 p.m.
Denise, along with several other parents, school staff and community members, seek out donations from residents and businesses. This year, the group has been able to collect 40 baskets full of items that will be raffled at the games.
“It takes a small army to put on this event,” Denise said. “We are so appreciative of all the help from our family, friends and community. We couldn’t do this without all of them.”
For Libby, seeing the community come together to raise awareness has made an impression on her.
“It’s cool that everyone is supportive of it. It’s so awesome, especially since I have it, the community all comes together and helps raise money for the cause,” she said. “It’s cool to see everyone there and being supportive.”
Tickets will be sold at the games for drawings of prizes, as well, including a 32-inch flatscreen T.V. from Millard’s, a mini-fridge from Sheridan Tire and Auto, a night stay at The Shack in Newaygo, a fire pit from Big L Lumber and tickets to Grand Rapids Drive basketball games.
Funds will go toward the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and to help cover the school’s costs for putting on the annual event.
“I love helping organize this event to help find a cure for type 1 diabetes. It’s not just about Libby. It’s about all the families out there that are affected by this,” Denise said. “We have seen many changes in diabetes management over the years thanks to JDRF and all of the research they are doing to accomplish this.”
Sensational Sophomores is a series for the Daily News sports page on local high school sophomores making an impact at the varsity level.