May 3, 2013
LOGAN, Utah -
by Megan Allen, USU Athletic Media Relations
From an outsider's perspective, sports like track and field, and cross country, often appear to be individual sports. Results and finishes are determined by each athlete's personal performance, rather than as a group. However, ask any runner, jumper or thrower and they will tell you just how wrong that is.
So much of a track athlete's success comes from the support of his or her teammates. From helping coach them in practice to cheering them on from the sidelines as they compete, the camaraderie and support involved in a single event is what turns these individual performances into team sports.
For one particular Utah State track and field athlete, the support she has received from her teammates, the athletic department, the university and her friends and family has been instrumental in helping her get to where she is today.
Brittany Fisher, a senior distance runner from Naperville, Ill., will be one of 70 student-athletes to cross the stage in a cap and gown and graduate from Utah State University this weekend. While that itself is quite the accomplishment, the fact that Fisher will be among them is remarkable.
In the early morning hours of March 12, 2012, Fisher and a friend were rock-climbing in the Red Rocks Desert of Southern Utah. Upon her descent, Fisher lost control of her ropes, plummeting 50 feet to the ground.
Fisher said the fall reminded her of the feelings that are often experienced during cliff jumping.
"As you jump, you have that feeling of wondering when the water is going to come. It always seems farther than it is when you finally hit the water. Only I hit the ground instead of water," Fisher said. "I couldn't feel anything from the waist down, but my back hurt and my hand, so I was in pretty excruciating pain."
Fisher was airlifted to a hospital in nearby Las Vegas, Nev., with several broken bones in both legs and feet. She was also paralyzed from the waist down.
The team was set to compete at a meet at the University of Arizona that week, so head coach Gregg Gensel flew from Tucson to Las Vegas to see Fisher.
"I got off the plane and drove to the hospital, thinking the whole time `What am I going to say to this girl?' She's just been in this horrible accident, and I didn't know what I was going to say," Gensel said. "From the moment I walked in, Brittany took over. She was just Miss Positive, looking at all the silver linings. I spent almost two hours with her and her family and never once had to carry the conversation. It was her. She was all about the team."
When bad things happen, it is often difficult to keep a positive outlook. It is easy, and completely understandable, to get stuck in the despair of it and feel sorry for yourself.
For Fisher, that mentality was not an option she ever considered.
"It's just in me, and was from moment one in the hospital," Fisher said.
She recalled a day the hospital staff told her they would try using a wheelchair with her for the first time the next day.
"I asked if there was a wheelchair available then and said `I want to get up now. Why not try now?'" she said. "I think that's just an athlete's mentality. We just want to do it and get to work. It was never quick enough for me, always ready to get on to the next thing."
With that in mind, Fisher focused on the positive aspects of the entire experience.
"The first time I remember crying in the hospital was just because I felt such an outpouring love. I just felt so blessed to be alive," Fisher said. "There's a reason I'm not dead, a reason I'm still here. I still have work to do."
Having 31 years of coaching experience, Gensel has seen plenty of injuries. While very few have been as severe as Fisher's, it is something he's had to deal with before.
"My experience with these kind of things is that people do one of two things. They either do what Brittany has done where they find all the bright sides they can and make something out of nothing, or they go into their hole and wallow in their misery," Gensel said. "I knew she wouldn't do that. She's not that kind of person, but I still think she far surpassed how anyone thought she would react to this in a positive way."
From Las Vegas, Fisher was transferred to Craig Hospital in Denver, Colo. Specializing in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries, the medical staff spent nearly four months helping Fisher through her rehabilitation.
Unlike the typical hospital, patients at Craig Hospital don't spend much time in their rooms or lying around. Up at 7 a.m. each day, Fisher spent the mornings in various therapies and exercises. The afternoon was filled with classes every hour with the evening ending in a chance to get outside or going to sleep.
"I didn't get to lay in a hospital bed much at all," Fisher said. "They say `Welcome to Craig Hospital, now get up.' Once you get to Craig Hospital, you get to work."
After three and a half months in Denver, Fisher got to return to her parents' house outside of Chicago. She spent the summer finishing up school work she had missed during her time in the hospital, while continuing her rehabilitation.
She returned to Logan in August, ready for her senior year. With student teaching and finishing up her elementary education degree, Fisher has had a long year, but is grateful for the chance to finish.
A year after her accident, Fisher is now able to stand and walk with the help of crutches. She recently participated in the Kentucky Derby Marathon where she walked a mile as part of the Christopher Reeve Foundation. She still spends time with the track team, cheering them on and encouraging her teammates' successes.
"At times it seems like the recovery isn't fast enough, and you always want more. But this injury has really taught me to be content with what I have. It doesn't mean I'm not working and wanting to progress, I'm still wanting to get back everything that I can, but you can't ever truly be happy where you are if you're not content," Fisher said. "First, you have to be content, then you can be happy."
With the encouragement and love of those around her, Fisher has been able to move through her injury and recovery with a happy and positive outlook.
From lying on the ground unable to move to being ready to walk across a stage to accept her college diploma, Fisher has come a long way in just over a year.
"I shouldn't be alive," Fisher said. "It's just a constant reminder of the many blessings I've had."
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