If you attended Hoover High School the past four years, you remember the moment. Each year the school holds a pep rally to recognize students who participated in Special Olympics and their awards from that year. Most students run or give high fives when their name is called. But not Chloe Rollins. As her name was called, she whipped out her “sassy walk,” took off her glasses and flipped her hair as she made her way through the gym. And the whole school erupted in cheers.
The only moment to rival that one was at Showcase, a student-directed recital for students who took dance classes as an elective. Her junior year Chloe, who had Down syndrome, asked if she could do a solo to ”Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson, and indeed by the night of the show she had choreographed her moves, made her costume with help from her mom and sister, and selected the lighting for different points of the song. “She completely stole the show,” dance teacher Alicia Wilbanks recalls. “Hands down she was everybody’s favorite the whole night. She owned the stage with her Michael Jackson moves and was so sassy.”
And that was Chloe: completely confident at all times, even on stage. She knew who she was, and you could see it in the way she walked and the way she danced.
For just shy of 20 years, Chloe’s personality lit up any space she was in. “Any time you walked in the room, she would pick you up and squeeze you and hold you and ask, ‘Where you been?’” family friend Kara Keedy says. “That’s what she did with everybody. She showed you that she was excited to see you and sad to see you go.”
Kara says Chloe—who many people called “Coco”—taught her to love big like she did. “Honestly everyone should live like Chloe,” Kara says. “It didn’t take much to get her so excited, and it put things in perspective.”
And indeed many things got Chloe excited. “Any time I was over (at her house) she was watching a Disney movie or had her coloring set out,” Kara notes. “I have a whole collection of pages she colored me.” Chloe loved all Disney princesses and often called her mom “Dory” when she’d forget things. She always wore dresses and any time she could wore a dress that looks like Ursula’s in The Little Mermaid.
Reagan Moore, Chloe’s friend since they met in sixth grade at Simmons Middle School, estimates Chloe had about 1,000 markers and 100 coloring books. Speaking of her love of art, Chloe also liked to design dresses for people and wanted to be a fashion designer in Paris one day. In fact, she told her teacher Alicia Wilbanks she wanted to invent something where you take a picture of a dress and it would make the dress for you. “She had big dreams and big ideas, and nothing was going to stop her,” Alicia says. “She thought everything is possible.”
Chloe also loved everything tie-dye, and when it came to food, she loved soup—cold out of the can for any meal—and also oysters, so much so that she’d always get her own order at the beach.
But perhaps her greatest love was country music artist Blake Shelton, who she referred to as her husband. Everyone knew not to even think of mentioning Gwen Stefani (Shelton’s wife) to her. On the way to school each morning Chloe and her mom played Blake Shelton’s greatest hit album, and her favorite to crank up was “Hillbilly Bone” with Trace Atkins.
Whether they were singing along to country music or coloring, Chloe and her friends were always smiling. “She always made me laugh,” Reagan says. “Even though she was sassy, she would do anything for me and I would do anything for her.” Case in point: In middle school, Chloe was very into the movie Frozen—Reagan says they watched it at least 20 times together—and treasured a Frozen necklace she had. But one day Chloe decided to give it to Reagan.
When it came time for Chloe and Reagan’s senior year, the theme for Showcase was going to be Dreams, and Chloe was planning to dance to “Run the World” by Beyonce “because she said it was her dream for girls one day to run the world,” Alicia says. “She was really excited about it, and she talked about being a senior all year.” With COVID-19 the show wasn’t able to go on, but Alicia was able to deliver her and the other seniors a rose like they traditionally were given at the event.
In her four years teaching Chloe in dance class, Alicia also took note of what other students learned from her. “Chloe had a way of making everyone feel like they could accomplish things,” she says. “She was comfortable in herself and made other people comfortable in being themselves.”
Of the many things that stood out about Chloe to Molly Rehmert, Chloe’s teacher in the Hoover High School Life Skills Academy her junior year, one of the strongest was how intuitive Chloe was socially. She could read the room and know if something was off or if someone was having a bad day, Molly notes. On one of her own tough days, Molly recalls walking through the school’s courtyard with Chloe. “She was asking me questions and could tell I was frustrated,” Molly says. “She was able to cheer me up in the five minutes it took to walk across the courtyard.”
Throughout her years at Hoover, Chloe always talked about how much she loved her mom Stacy and dad Danny, and her older brother Cameron and sister Kelsey—and her dogs too. You rarely saw Stacy without Chloe, and friends and family knew if you talked on the phone to Stacy that Chloe was right beside her—at home or concerts or football games. “(Chloe) experienced more fun and love in her 19 short years than some of us get in a full lifetime,” Stacy’s cousin High Kelly says.
Kelly remembers talking to Stacy the day Chloe was born when doctors had just told Stacy her daughter had Down syndrome. “What better family for her to be born into than our family?” Stacy told Kelly.
Part of why Stacy said that was because the biggest light in their family’s life at the time was Robby, Kelly’s brother and Stacy’s cousin, who also had Down syndrome. “We knew those children have unconditional love you can’t see or feel from anyone else,” Kelly says. “(Down syndrome) wasn’t a scare to them. She was just their daughter and they loved her. Everything they planned for the future had Chloe in it.”
For many years Robby lived down the hill from Chloe’s family. The two of them fought like cats and dogs, and then they’d forgive each other five minutes later like nothing happened. “They butted heads because they both wanted to be the center of attention,” Kelly says, recalling how Robby and Chloe had a “dance off” at Chloe’s sister’s Kelsey’s wedding and took turns on stage.
But Chloe’s performances took on a more serious tone too. She sang at every funeral in her family, including Robby’s in 2017. “In such mourning, seeing her sing Carrie Underwood’s ‘I’ll See You Again’ put a big smile on my face, and I didn’t think I’d ever smile again,” Kelly says. “She knew what I needed to hear. That’s what she believed, that she would see Robby again.”
Chloe just didn’t know how soon that day would come. And then came 2020 and its COVID-19 pandemic. On Aug. 2 Chloe was taken to UAB Hospital for a COVID test that came back positive, and after a 17-day battle there she passed away—but not without an army of support from those who knew her and a Facebook page in her honor. Through it all her mom and family were right by her side. Chloe and Stacy would say their prayers together every night, even in the hospital room through a camera.
Though, tragically, Chloe is no longer with us in body, her spirit lives on in everyone who knew her. And as they watch videos of her dancing or look back at photos of her contagious smile, they can’t help but live like Chloe did. To love big. To do what you are passionate about. To squeeze the people you treasure. To believe anything is possible. To laugh and have fun. And to be confident in who you are. Just like Chloe was as she took off her glasses, flipped her hair and walked her way across the Hoover High School gym floor.