In February, Rudy Crenshaw was living in the stairwell of an apartment building in the Bronx. In August, the Clinton native and former Southwestern Oklahoma State and Redlands Community College point guard was in Paris representing the United States in the Homeless World Cup, a 64-nation tournament designed to use street soccer to energize homeless people to change their lives.
In the span of just one week, she ate a snail (horrible), played soccer in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower (inspirational), and appeared in a Nike commercial (just plain crazy).
“I do feel like a star, I'm not going to lie,” Crenshaw, 25, said after returning from Paris.
Rudy Crenshaw became homeless after moving to New York in 2010, but her struggle to find a home dates back to her childhood in Clinton, a city of just over 9,000 residents, some 85 miles west of Oklahoma City along Interstate 40. Her parents named her Terena, but an uncle thought she looked like Rudy Huxtable from the Cosby Show and the nickname stuck.
Crenshaw was a promising athlete at Clinton High School, where she excelled in basketball and also played soccer and ran track. But her father, Frederick Callins, was absent, and her mother, Karen Crenshaw, once a state championship sprinter, struggled with drug addiction and served time in a prison in Lexington for armed robbery shortly before Rudy was born.
Karen's mother, Bertha Crenshaw, held the family together and made sure Rudy and her younger sister were taken care of. But when Bertha died right before Christmas of Rudy's freshman year of high school, the vague semblance of structure the children had experienced died along with her.
“My grandmother was basically the closest person I had in the whole world,” Rudy Crenshaw said, noting that she hasn't spoken to her mother in years.
Rudy was already a starter on Clinton's varsity girl's basketball team as a freshman. She didn't want to be sent to a foster home in a different school district. The team's coach, Valerie Fariss, often had to step in to help her point guard.
“She was a good kid who had every opportunity to be bad but wasn't,” said Fariss, an All-State player in the 1980s at Leedey High School.
“There was a pretty significant drug problem in Clinton, and she was living all around that.”
Crenshaw saw how drugs were ruining her mother's life and vowed never to use. Nonetheless, she still bore some of the burden of her mother's addiction.
“Her mom hadn't ever been a mother to her — ever — she'd be high, and would get violent, and Rudy would call me, scared to death, sometimes in the middle of the night and I'd go pick her up,” Fariss recalled.
Soon after Bertha Crenshaw's death, Rudy moved in with Fariss. Rudy's mother seemed not to notice that her eldest daughter was gone.
“Her mother was still in Clinton, but Rudy lived with me for three months before she even spoke to me,” Fariss said. “I just couldn't fathom it — how do you go three months without having any idea where your child is living?”
Fariss provided Crenshaw with the stability she needed, and Rudy seemed to thrive. Her grades were solid, and she made the All-State team her senior year after averaging more than 13 points. Despite her family problems, she was a well-liked kid who was voted homecoming queen at the senior prom.
After graduating, she accepted a basketball scholarship at Southwestern State in nearby Weatherford. She was placed on academic probation her first year at the NCAA Division II school and never suited up for a game before transferring to Redlands Community College in El Reno, where she played well but never graduated.
Crenshaw struggled to stay disciplined amid the freedom that college life offered. She lost contact with Fariss for a time.
After dropping out of Redlands in early 2010, an uncle encouraged her to move in with him in the Bronx. Rudy had long dreamed of living in the Big Apple, but she immediately clashed with her new guardian, who felt that she was partying too much. According to Rudy, her uncle decided he'd had enough and asked her to move out in December.
By this time, Crenshaw's mother was back in prison on charges of dealing drugs within 2,000 feet of a school.
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