Karen Colvin's disability enabled her to tap her greatest...


April 19, 1992|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

Karen Colvin's disability enabled her to tap her greatest 0) talent

By age 14, Karen Colvin knew she wanted to help the handicapped. She didn't know, however, she would wind up a member of the group she was helping.

"It's very ironic that someone who had worked with people with disabilities fell into the ranks of them herself," says Ms. Colvin, a former Special Olympics executive who became a quadriplegic nearly 10 years ago.

Her neck was broken when a young man, driving at nearly 80 miles an hour, ran a stop sign and hit her car, she says. She spent six weeks at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center and four months in a Denver rehabilitation center.

Two years later, she founded the National Spinal Cord Injuries Hotline, (800) 526-3456. In addition to answering questions, she recently added a peer support network.

For her efforts, she will be honored by the League for the Handicapped on Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore. While she's flattered by the recognition, she believes much of the credit belongs to her two supportive teen-age children and husband of 18 years.

"I always thought I was never great at anything," says Ms. Colvin, 38, who lives in Owings Mills. "All of a sudden I became disabled and I found my area of greatness: It's communicating the needs of the disabled."

Some things in life you never forget.

No. 1 on Olufunmilayo's list is the night she opened for the Grateful Dead at Madison Square Garden in 1987.

"The seats were forever, and the applause . . . was awesome," she recalls.

Awesome is also a word used to describe the 47-year-old African dancer whose name, she says, is Yoruba for "God gives me joy."

With 30 years experience teaching and performing, she has participated in nearly every major local arts festival. She'll be the grand marshal of the Pennsylvania Avenue Jump-Up, a spring celebration featuring storytellers, artists, athletes and rappers today at 3 p.m.

"I first got interested in dance because it satisfied my soul," she says.

Not everyone shares her enthusiasm.

"There are members of my family who say, 'Girl, you need to go get a job,' " says the East Baltimore mother of two. "People have this notion you have to have a time clock to be valid."

Her two feet and a drum help her keep time these days while

teaching youngsters, who, she admits, are her preferred pupils.

"Children come to you with a 'Here I am, I'm yours, do with me what you will' attitude," she says.

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