On July 27, 2009, Stormy Cushing was on her way to cheerleading conditioning, about to meet friends as they got ready for their senior year of high school. She not only cheered, but ran cross country in middle school and varsity track in high school, and Stormy was ready to take on another year of athletics at River Valley High School in Caledonia, Ohio. But something happened that would take Stormy totally off track.
Fast forward to Sunday, September 24, 2017, Stormy was back on a running course. Now 25, she was in a wheelchair as two firefighters and other teammates pushed her for 3.1 miles at the Team Heart & Sole Marion Presidential 5K.
No, it wasn't quite the same freedom or feeling she had running with her peers in high school. But after eight years of rigorous physical and neurological therapy, Stormy was just excited to be outside, racing again.
"It was wonderful," Stormy said. "The wind and the sun was in my hair, just like when I used to run in track."
That summer afternoon eight years ago, Stormy's car collided with a motorcycle causing her vehicle to flip several times. Firefighters pulled her from the wreckage, unsure of her prognosis.
Marsha Cushing, Stormy's mom, said it's been a "slow and steady process” since the accident, which put her in a coma for six weeks and in the hospital for six months. For the first six months, she stayed by her daughter’s side, waiting patiently for her to come out of a coma.
Once she emerged, Stormy had to relearn everything, including eating and talking. Early on, the doctors recommended admitting her into a nursing home, but her parents refused. Instead, they sought help from Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, where staff taught them how to care for Stormy so she could live at home.
Stormy busies herself every week with physical therapy, including three days a week at Ohio Health, water therapy on Fridays, and neuromuscular relief every other Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Stormy and her family work with specialists to make daily routines for them to do at home. Cushing knows the rigorous training and help from doctors and physical therapists, along with Stormy's tenacious spirit, helps her overcome the obstacles she faces every day.
"That's what's got her this far, the right therapists along the way who were so intentional with Stormy, thought outside the box, and gave us stuff to work on," Cushing said. "When she first came home, she couldn't move either of her hands or legs. They were really tight and really drawn up. Now she has complete control over her right hand, has started to bend her right leg, and is getting more movement with her other leg and left arm arm."
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A friend of the Cushing family told Heart & Sole, a non-profit organization that helps people with disabilities participate in athletics, about Stormy. The group offered to pay her entry fee and provided a special running wheelchair.
"[Heart & Sole] basically contacted us and said, 'Show up here,'" Cushing said. "And we showed up. They're wonderful, and you can tell the volunteers' hearts are truly in this. It was really awesome getting to see [Stormy] have a glimpse of her old life again."
After the 5K, Stormy is only determined to do more. She plans on doing three more Heart & Sole races before the end of the year. Through continuing intense physical therapy, Stormy hopes to walk down the aisle at her sister's wedding in March with the least amount of help possible.
After that? She's just going to keep dreaming of running again, and taking one step at a time to get there.
"She's said to me several times, 'In the morning when I get up, will you help me stand up? Because I want to try to run,'" Cushing said. "I'm always like, 'Stormy, don't you think you should try to walk first?' And she says, 'No, I want to run tomorrow. I want to run when I get up.'"
This article first appeared on Runner's World.