Team brings home prizes from horse competition
Student who suffered brain injury in fall from horse in September participates in contest
Four months ago, Sarah Smith was confined to a bed in a hospital intensive unit.
And now she's back in high school, immersing herself in the life she lived before an accident -- at least temporarily -- changed everything.
On Sept. 13, the 16-year-old Tonganoxie High School junior was riding her horse in preparation for competitions at the Kansas State Fair. It was morning, the grass was still damp. And Sarah's horse slipped.
Sarah's head hit the ground.
She was taken by air ambulance to the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan., which would be her home for the next two months.
Sarah's mother, Vickie Smith, said her daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury. There was bleeding in the occipital lobe of her brain. The resulting condition was similar to a stroke, Smith said.
A complete recovery
And though the doctors were hesitant to make a prognosis, Smith, who has seen her daughter make amazing improvements in only four months, said she expects a complete recovery.
"We're still waiting on her left arm to start working, but they can't really give us a timetable," Smith said. "We applied for a handicapped permit and they only gave us a temporary one 'til May. I saw that as a good sign."
But for weeks last the fall, no one knew if Sarah would walk again, let alone be her normal, cheerful, hard-working and determined self.
Gradually, as family and friends kept vigil at the hospital, Sarah improved. First a movement of a leg or arm, then a few words, later a few steps and, finally on Jan. 3, a return to high school.
And, the next day -- a trip to Denver -- to compete in the National 4-H Horse Classic, an event for which Sarah and her 4-H teammates qualified last February.
For all, it was the culmination of a year's work. But for Sarah, who adamantly refused to bring her wheelchair along on the trip, it was a miracle.
"Everybody said in the airport when we were walking that they were having a hard time keeping up with me because I was going faster than everybody else," Sarah said.
¢ The Leavenworth County 4-H team qualified in February 2006 at the Kansasompetitionorse Panorama.
¢ Area participants:
-- Team captain, Nicole Allen, 17, Tonganoxie.
-- Second chair, Sarah Smith, 16, Tonganoxie.
-- Third chair, Trevor Fousek, 19, Kansas State University freshman and a 2006 graduate of Lansing High School 2006.
-- Fourth chair,ustinaragary, 15, Tonganoxie.
Alternate, Shannon Smith, 17, Tonganoxie.
-- Team coach, Vickie Smith, Tonganoxie.
¢ The team took third place in the horse quiz bowl. Individually, Nicole Allen took third place and Austin Baragary took 10th place. Kansas participants were awarded the high state overall award based on team placings in quiz bowl, judging, demonstrations and individual placings for public speaking.
A little scary
She was a little concerned about how to walk off the people movers, the moving floors that transport people in an airport.
"I just figured how to get off the first time," Sarah said. "I was scared to get off. I just let it push me off."
She also easily conquered the long movable hallways when getting on and off the jet. There was a handrail.
"I just grabbed hold of the rail, leaving my cane behind and I'd start power walking," Sarah said.
And when it came time to cavorting in the hotel's recreational facilities, her friends helped.
"They got me in the hot tub," Sarah said, chuckling. "That was interesting."
Sarah is the daughter of Vickie Smith, Tonganoxie, and Bruce Smith, Wyoming. Her mother, who is a veterinarian and the team coach, and Sarah's sister, Shannon, were among those on the Denver trip.
Because Shannon already had competed in two national tournaments, she was only eligible to participate in this year's tournament as an alternate team member.
Becky Fousek's son, Trevor, was among area youths who participated in the Denver competition.
Becky Fousek appreciates that Smith has coached the team the past 11 years.
"During that time there have been state winners and those that have gone on to win national competitions," Fousek said. "She has inspired some to become veterinarians,ome to work in the field of animal science and some to studyuman medicine and therapy."
And this year's team was successful as well.
Sarah and her teammates, returned home with a trophy, plaques and purple ribbons. Obviously, the team fared as well in the competitions as Sarah fared in conquering physical challenges.
And Sarah said she was glad to be there to help her teammates in the horse quiz bowl, in which the team placed third.
One of the rules, Sarah said is if one team answers first, and is wrong, it counts against them. However, the other team then can answer, without losing points if their answer is incorrect.
So Leavenworth County team members were cautious if they were uncertain of the answer.
"We'd hope the other team answered and hoped they got it wrong so I could guess," Sarah said. "And that's how I got a lot of points, actually, because I'm good at making an educated guess."
Now back at home, the Tonganoxie teen uses her wheelchair between classes at high school, particularly when she has to travel from the east campus to the west campus. And usually, she said, a friend pushes her from one building to the other.
Sarah continues to have physical and occupational therapy two days a week. And she's working to regain strength on her left side.
And soon, within weeks, she's planning her ultimate goal -- to ride a horse again. She plans soon to start, first by riding a gentle 18-year-old horse of her mother's.
Sarah is thrilled with the progress she's made since her accident.
"Four months ago I was in ICU," Sarah said cheerfully. "And now I'm up and at 'em and back to school."