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West HS senior wins scholarship (video)

By Jessica Priest
May 17, 2013 at 12:17 a.m.

Chris Henschen remembers the summer he attended a WildWeek Christian camp, where his life changed from dealing drugs to achieving success in academics. Chemistry and finance are two of his favorite subjects that he will be studying this fall.

Growing up, Chris Henschen had a measly allowance.

He'd never held a lot of dollar bills in his hands - certainly not enough to buy anything expensive.

All that changed after Henschen, now a 17-year-old graduating senior at West High School, began operating an elaborate drug dealing business in his Cedar Park neighborhood near Austin.

Truthfully, it wasn't because he liked smoking weed, a sort of out-of-body experience for him. It just kept him occupied. He wanted a reason to be out of the house when his mother was away working two jobs and attending college classes full time.

See, it was when his mother wasn't around that his adopted sister sexually abused him.

"My view of love was twisted," Henschen said of the attacks, which began when he was 4 years old. "I always thought that this was what love was, that this was normal."

All that changed at church camp over the summer in Leakey. A speaker's words there sunk in.

"He said, 'I know there is another person here that needs help. Just stand up right now,'" Henschen said. "I stood up and started crying."

It took another nine months for Henschen to report the abuse to his area pastor and then to his mom in a letter. She got Henschen counseling and moved him to Victoria, where he has excelled in academics, extracurricular activities and as a cafe manager at Parkway Church.

His adopted sister is in prison for failing to register as a sex offender, Henschen said. The two do not have a relationship.

Henschen was just one of the recipients of the Justin Forrest Cox "Beat the Odds" Memorial Scholarship Program. On Friday, he was presented with a $13,600 check, which he'll use to attend Missouri Valley College in the fall.

There, he will hone his cheerleading skills while majoring in international business and business finance. He will minor in chemistry. He hopes to one day work in the oil industry.

He realizes he's lucky to have turned his life around, to have a relatively clean criminal history. It's a fate some of the friends who used to play basketball with him every day from 5 to 9 p.m. don't have.

It was during those games that most of the drug transactions occurred. They covered it up by convincing their mothers they were mowing lawns, which sometimes was true.

"A lot of the money I wouldn't even spend on myself," Henschen said, describing how he'd ride his bike to a nearby Walgreens to purchase cases of Gatorade for the boys or replace the well-worn basketball hoop net.

"It's nice to know they didn't end up dead," he said of the two boys he still keeps tabs on. "I don't want to slip back."

He's played golf and been involved in the theater program, but he's well known for being the school's mascot.

He dances around in the costume, in which temperatures can sometimes reach 140 degrees, despite being diagnosed with a rare heart condition - left ventricular non-compaction.

He said only 12 in 10 million people have the condition. His symptoms are random, and he may need a heart transplant by age 40 if he overexerts himself. Most doctors don't know how to treat it.

"He (a doctor) said, 'Hey, hope you're OK. Come check in every once in a while, and that's all we can do,'" Henschen said, recalling a hospital visit.

Henschen hopes his story will inspire others.

"I hope kids can see that it doesn't have to start and end there," he said.



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