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– Editor’s note: In the next four issues, The Lancaster News will profile students who have overcome the odds to earn a high school diploma in 2013.
Only fragments of memories remain for Austin Williams of the day that changed his life forever.
It was about 12 years ago as Williams, now a graduating senior at Buford High School, was riding his bike on Flat Creek Road (S.C. 903) near his great-grandparent’s house.
Just 6 years old, the kindergartner was unaware of the danger that was approaching.
“I was playing in the road and the car came around a corner,” Williams said. “It hit me and my head went through the window.”
Williams, now 18, remembers very little of the accident and recalls just a few pieces of the ensuing weeks.
“They had to airlift me to Charlotte. I was paralyzed on my right side and broke my leg,” he said. “I was in a coma for six weeks and had to stay in the hospital for awhile.”
The accident left him with little use of his right hand, a slight limp in his right leg and the constant threat of blood clots.
“It took a little while to get back in school,” he said. “The hardest part was having to learn how to use my left hand to write. It took me a good while to write again.”
In the years that followed, Williams spent countless hours in physical therapy and has undergone three surgeries to repair damage to his leg, the last one about three years ago.
“My hand is still messed up, but I don’t let it stop me,” he said.
Stopping doesn’t even seem to be in Williams’ vocabulary, evidenced by his love of the outdoors and his desire to do whatever he sets his mind to.
He loves riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes and has also earned his driver’s license.
“It’s not hard for me to drive,” Williams said. “I’ve been like this since I was 6. It’s who I am.”
Other favorite hobbies include venturing into the great outdoors.
“I do all kinds of hunting, but my favorite is deer hunting and I really love to fish,” he said. “My best buddy, Ryan (Moseley) and I go fishing all the time.”
Following with the theme, he’s also developed an interest in all things equine-related, including riding his Quarter horse, Buck, on his family’s pasture.
“I just started riding two years ago and fell in love with it. I ride for fun, not in rodeos or anything,” he said. “It’s hard saddling him up, but it’s not too big a deal.”
‘Hard to believe’
As graduation approaches, Williams said his family is looking forward to seeing him earn his diploma. His family includes parents Gina Edwards and Kevin Williams, grandfather Larry Williams, stepbrother, Grahm, and stepsister, Riley.
“Everybody’s really excited for me to graduate. Me, I didn’t think I would make it to this point. I mean, I guess I knew I would, but it’s really hard to believe,” he said, shaking his head.
Buford High School Assistant Principal JoAnn Garris is impressed how far Williams has come, considering the limitations he’s had to work with since his accident.
“He’s an amazing young man,” Garris said. “That’s hard. I can’t imagine.”
Garris first met him as a middle school student and then knew him when they both eventually moved over to Buford High.
“He’s grown up a lot from when I first met him,” she said. “He’s really come into his own person.”
She said his grades tell the whole story and that this semester “he’s sitting on all A’s and B’s.”
“He does his work and his grades are good,” she said. “He seems to be a success in the classroom.”
Many other adjectives come to her mind as she talks about Williams, including upbeat, positive and humble.
“He’s had a hard time. There’s been a lot of struggles to teach him how to write with his left hand. He’s amazing to me,” Garris said. “Just to overcome what he’s overcome and with the attitude he has. He doesn’t use his disability as a crutch and he never complains. I think that’s an inspiration to other kids.”
‘You can do it’
The next chapter of Williams’ life is about to unfold as he heads off this fall to York Technical College to focus on a degree in graphic design.
“I’d rather be in front of the computer,” Williams said. “I’ve been wanting to do this since I was in the 7th grade and had a job shadow at Do-it Printing. That got me wanting to do it.”
Knowing there are many other people struggling with similar injuries and disabilities, Williams has some straight-forward advice for them- forge ahead and don’t let it keep you down.
“Just keep your head up. It is hard and I have physical stuff every day that I have to tell myself, ‘you can do it,’” he said.
Pausing for a minute, he ponders what his disability means for his future. But other than “opening mayonnaise jars,” he said there are few obstacles in his way.
“Right now there’s nothing I can’t do,” Williams said.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416