Rayna DuBose owns six sets of prosthetics, but her favorite pair is her “girly girl legs.”
The coach for Marriotts Ridge High School — whose hands and feet were amputated in 2002 after she contracted meningitis as a college freshman on a basketball scholarship — likes that they’re designed for 6-inch stiletto heels.
DuBose, who also has prosthetic hands, is quite at ease discussing such personal aspects of her life, and sees no barriers to achieving her goals.
“Without struggle, there is no progress. I say that a lot,” said the Columbia native, whose focus as an assistant football coach at Marriotts Ridge is teaching mental toughness. She’s also head coach of the Mustangs’ junior varsity boys basketball team.
The Oakland Mills High School graduate is also comfortable addressing large gatherings, which she’ll do Oct. 15 at the annual celebration of the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County, a philanthropy founded in 2002 to benefit women and girls.
DuBose will speak on “Strength, Power & Engagement: Growing and Giving in Our Community.” The fundraiser will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Howard Community College in Columbia.
During a brainstorming session several months ago, DuBose’s name was suggested by a member of the Women’s Giving Circle who had heard her speak and viewed her as the personification of female strength and empowerment — two attributes integral to the nonprofit’s mission.
“Rayna is such an incredible woman and we’re thrilled she is coming to speak to us,” said Barb Van Winkle, who became chairwoman of the philanthropy’s advisory board in July.
DuBose’s 35th birthday falls on the event’s date, so Van Winkle has arranged for a cake to celebrate the occasion. The annual meeting is open to women who are interested in joining or finding out more about the organization.
“This is about the power of collective giving,” Van Winkle said.
“Our message is that women of all incomes and at all stages of life can be philanthropists,” said Van Winkle, noting that more than 1,000 donors have raised $1 million, half of which has been distributed through 100 education-based grants.
‘We don’t give up’
DuBose’s story has been reported frequently over the years. After feeling ill at home during spring break from Virginia Tech in 2002, she returned to her freshman year at the college — and passed out in study hall. Thinking she was dehydrated, she downed fluids and mustered the energy to show up for a mandatory basketball team photo shoot.
She passed out again, and this time remained unconscious for three weeks.
“When I woke up, I was told all my limbs were going to be amputated within 24 to 48 hours due to failing blood circulation,” she recalled of her stay at the University of Virginia Medical Center, where she’d been transferred by helicopter from a hospital near the college.
After a series of surgeries and therapy sessions, she continued her college courses online and returned to Virginia Tech as a full-time college student in 2003. She graduated four years later with a degree in consumer studies.
“I’m a natural-born athlete and we don’t give up no matter what happens,” she said, explaining her much-heralded ability to come back physically and mentally from such a horrific turn of events.
“Columbia really rallied for me and my parents and showed us love” during that challenging time. That made a world of difference, she said.
DuBose lives in Baltimore County now, but her parents still reside in Columbia.
“I still love Columbia — all it’s been and all it’s growing to be,” she said.
The lifelong athlete hasn’t been fielding as many speaking engagements as she was in the years immediately following her well-publicized experience. The grace she exhibited in handling a fate few can imagine made her an in-demand inspirational speaker around the world.
These days her itinerary doesn’t leave much wiggle room.
She is a permanent substitute teacher for the county public school system, coaches in the afternoons and works as a hostess at Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City in the evenings. She also runs 12 miles a day, either outdoors or on a treadmill.
“I go from place to place, go to bed and then get up the next day and do it all over again,” she said. “I’m just a ball of energy. I love being active and I love people.”
Behind the scenes
Van Winkle recalled the formation of the Women’s Giving Circle in February 2002.
“That very first meeting left a lasting impression in my mind,” she said of the organizational get-together, which attracted more than 200 women. “I could barely find a place to park.”
Since then, most donors to the giving circle have been women, Van Winkle said, noting that contributors give anywhere from $20 to several thousand dollars. But she stressed that the organization doesn’t discriminate.
“Some men donate and will attend the annual meeting; we are very inclusive,” she said.
The group relaunched its Emergency Response Network in July after it was paused for a couple of years for retooling to enable online donations, Van Winkle said.
The email notification system permits the group to alert members to a one-time funding request passed on to them by a local nonprofit — such as a car repair bill for a single mother. The request is typically filled by donors in under an hour.
The organization collaborates with nonprofits like Bridges to Housing Stability, Hope Works and FIRN (Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network), she said. The group also sponsors a girls’ summer camp and a young women’s giving circle, and partners with Junior Achievement.
DuBose said she admires the Women’s Giving Circle’s mission; early in her career, she taught girls about self-confidence. Nowadays, when she gives a talk she likes to “just speak from the heart,” she said.
DuBose relishes every opportunity to tell people she appreciates what they did for her.
“I give thanks to Columbia and to the world for getting me through the toughest times,” she said.
“This has been the greatest learning experience ever and it has taught me a lot about myself. There’s no stopping me now.”