NEW ORLEANS - Rayna DuBose smiles a lot these days, and with good reason.
She's got her life back.
It has been a little more than a year now (372 days to be exact) sinceDuBose, 19, contracted meningococcal meningitis during her freshman year as amember of the Virginia Tech women's basketball team. After spending threeweeks in a coma and suffering almost total organ failure, DuBose, who is fromColumbia, had to have her hands and feet amputated.
She has spent the past six months learning to use prosthetics, and can nowwalk on her own, feed and dress herself, and do many of the things she coulddo before her illness. She plans to return to Virginia Tech by the fall.
Yesterday at the Final Four, the United States Basketball WritersAssociation presented DuBose with its Most Courageous Award. She received aplaque at an awards breakfast at the Hyatt Regency. "I've been through a lot,"DuBose said, "but as you can see, I'm doing well by just being here. It's beengood so far."
The award is given each year to someone who shows tremendous courage andstrength in the face of adversity.
Past winners include Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina State coach whodied of cancer; Jamel Bradley, who started at guard for South Carolina despitebeing deaf; and the Oklahoma State men's team, which lost 10 members in a 2001plane crash.
The USBWA paid for DuBose and her parents, Willie and Andrea, to fly to NewOrleans to attend all three games of the Final Four and sent a limousine topick them up from the airport. At the ceremony, DuBose was introduced byVirginia Tech basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson, who flew in from the women'sFinal Four in Atlanta for the award presentation. Henrickson fought back tearsas she told the story of DuBose's waking up from her coma and beginning torecognize her friends and family.
"Our most magic moment came when Willie and Andy came back out into thewaiting room and said, `Yes, she recognizes us. Rayna knows who we are. Sheblinked her eyes,' " Henrickson said. "And then I got to go in. I couldn'ttell if she really knew who I was. I kept asking and asking. I saw her moveher tongue around in her mouth. I said, `Rayna, if you know who I am, youstick your tongue out at me.' And it shot right out."
When the doctors decided to amputate her feet, one of the first questionsDuBose asked was whether she would walk again. After hearing that, yes, shewould walk again with prosthetic legs, the second question she asked waswhether she could play basketball again.
"I decided I could feel sorry for myself and have a pity party, or I couldtry to bounce back," DuBose said. "That's what I tried to do: bounce back."
That meant lots of therapy and lots of frustration, relearning how to dothings like hold a fork, button a shirt, brush her teeth and comb her hair.She didn't want help, either.
"We have a rule in our house: Don't help until she asks for help," WillieDuBose said. "She wants to find a way to do it herself."
Said Rayna DuBose: "I don't want anybody to treat me any different thanthey did before. I don't want any special modifications to anything."
Hearing that doesn't surprise Henrickson.
"She's always been independent," Henrickson said. "Now she's a champion ofindependence. She doesn't need much help these days."
Henrickson recruited DuBose out of Oakland Mills High, where the center wasa two-time Sun All-Metro selection. She spoke highly of DuBose's knowledge andlove of the game.
"She's prepared to be a coach," Henrickson said. "She might get my jobeventually."
Also at the awards presentation, Kentucky's Tubby Smith was named Henry IbaCoach of the Year, and Xavier's David West was named Oscar Robertson Player ofthe Year.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun