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Steps forward: Atwell's progress is slow but steady

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's been nearly three years ago that Victoria Atwell nearly died in a car accident that claimed the life of her best friend, Brenda Golden.

The car in which Victoria was a passenger was hit by a tractor trailer as the car turned from Highway 82 onto U.S. 231 North Dec. 18, 2009.

(Photo)
Victoria Atwell, 20, recently voted for her first time.
(Submitted photo)
In the days and weeks following the tragedy, Victoria's family often didn't know if she would make it. Much of her body was crushed, and she'd suffered traumatic brain injury.

But she endured.

More progress

Last year, Victoria's family reported her progress to the T-G. She had reached a point where she could begin therapy. Her snarky personality had returned and she was looking forward to getting her high school diploma and participating in a 5K race where she'd be pushed by a runner to the finish line. She still had many dark days.

This year, Victoria reported much of her own progress.

Yes, Victoria is talking, a mission many never knew if she'd be able to accomplish.

"Her therapy was cut back to two days a week because she wasn't making progress," said Kerry Kimmel, Victoria's mother. "Two days later she said her first words ...

"The biggest thing to have happened is to have her speech come back. It's what we wanted the most ... As a mother, I always said, 'if I could just hear her say mama one more time.' Now we can't get her to stop talking," laughed Kerry.

Much to say

Her vocal cords are great; nerve damage makes it hard to understand some of what Victoria says, but her speech improves daily. She comprehends everything said to her.

So now that she's talking, what is she saying?

Pretty much anything. This nearly 21-year-old is your typical college-aged young lady. And she tells it like it is.

She recently voted for her first time.

"No comment," she quickly stated when asked who her pick for president is. "I don't talk about religion, sex or politics."

She will also tell you she hated therapy, she doesn't want to compete in any more 5K races (unless she's running) and she doesn't like horses -- although she's giving them a chance anyway each week during her participation in the Great Strides therapeutic riding program.

Goals list

Mentally, make no mistake, Victoria Atwell is on point.

Physically, Victoria has also made great strides. She's able to walk with assistance and accomplished what once seemed impossible when she stood on her own.

"She stood for 11 seconds," her mom said.

"No, 14 seconds!" Victoria quickly asserted.

Walking on her own is on the top of Victoria's list of goals she'll accomplish. That, along with driving, and going to college, she said. She and her parents have agreed she'll go to college when she can write an essay of 300 or more words. The effects of her traumatic brain injury cause Victoria to get stressed easily -- sometimes bored -- when having to sit down for any length of time.

"She has all the ability to comprehend but to stay on task is still hard for her," her mom said. Both agree she's not quite ready for college but there's no question in their minds she'll get there.

Chasing normalcy

Yes, Victoria has set her eyes on some pretty hefty goals, but what it all adds up to is really quite simple.

She craves a life of normalcy.

"Right now she just wants to be normal," Kerry said. "We go and do a lot and she's really just like any other 20-year-old. She does what most other kids do -- Facebook, email, texting -- she just doesn't drive. She just wants to be normal, and being pushed in a wheelchair is not normal."

She asked her mom, a photographer by trade, not to have any family photos made during Thanksgiving -- not until she's walking.

Victoria's straight-forward, determined and witty personality is nothing new for the once straight-A Cascade student who led Cascade to its last state band championship in 2009, just weeks before the accident (Cascade won the state this year for the first time since then).

"You know kids always talked about her personality," her mom said. "As her parents, we didn't see it as much. You know how kids are with their parents, though. We see it more now, and she's hilarious."

Moving on

Mentally and physically, Victoria is on her way. Emotionally, she can't recall the details of what put her in this situation.

"It doesn't matter to me," she said, quietly, choosing her words thoughtfully. "I've moved on."

Her mother helped explain that Victoria and the family have worked on accepting what's happened. They know they can't change it. What they can do, Kerry explained, is to adjust to their new normal.

The year's biggest development has given something Victoria lacked two years ago, even one year ago.

New hope

"Regaining her speech has given Victoria hope," Kerry said. "She is not a depressed person. She does not sit around and feel sorry for herself. She tries real hard and knows that she has a life for herself now."

"I'm going to drive and I'm going to walk," Victoria reasserted.

Time will tell, but for now, both agree on one thing for sure.

"We know we are going to be OK," Kerry said.

Victoria smiled, nodding in agreement.



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