Honored by award, DuBose working to `bounce back'

Most Courageous winner has relearned life's skills

April 08, 2003|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - Rayna DuBose smiles a lot these days, and with good reason.

She's got her life back.

It has been a little more than a year now (372 days to be exact) since DuBose, 19, contracted meningococcal meningitis during her freshman year as a member of the Virginia Tech women's basketball team. After spending three weeks in a coma and suffering almost total organ failure, DuBose, who is from Columbia, had to have her hands and feet amputated.

She has spent the past six months learning to use prosthetics, and can now walk on her own, feed and dress herself, and do many of the things she could do before her illness. She plans to return to Virginia Tech by the fall.

Yesterday at the Final Four, the United States Basketball Writers Association presented DuBose with its Most Courageous Award. She received a plaque at an awards breakfast at the Hyatt Regency. "I've been through a lot," DuBose said, "but as you can see, I'm doing well by just being here. It's been good so far."

The award is given each year to someone who shows tremendous courage and strength in the face of adversity.

Past winners include Jim Valvano, the former North Carolina State coach who died of cancer; Jamel Bradley, who started at guard for South Carolina despite being deaf; and the Oklahoma State men's team, which lost 10 members in a 2001 plane crash.

The USBWA paid for DuBose and her parents, Willie and Andrea, to fly to New Orleans to attend all three games of the Final Four and sent a limousine to pick them up from the airport. At the ceremony, DuBose was introduced by Virginia Tech basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson, who flew in from the women's Final Four in Atlanta for the award presentation. Henrickson fought back tears as she told the story of DuBose's waking up from her coma and beginning to recognize her friends and family.

"Our most magic moment came when Willie and Andy came back out into the waiting room and said, `Yes, she recognizes us. Rayna knows who we are. She blinked her eyes,' " Henrickson said. "And then I got to go in. I couldn't tell if she really knew who I was. I kept asking and asking. I saw her move her tongue around in her mouth. I said, `Rayna, if you know who I am, you stick your tongue out at me.' And it shot right out."

When the doctors decided to amputate her feet, one of the first questions DuBose asked was whether she would walk again. After hearing that, yes, she would walk again with prosthetic legs, the second question she asked was whether she could play basketball again.

"I decided I could feel sorry for myself and have a pity party, or I could try to bounce back," DuBose said. "That's what I tried to do: bounce back."

That meant lots of therapy and lots of frustration, relearning how to do things like hold a fork, button a shirt, brush her teeth and comb her hair. She didn't want help, either.

"We have a rule in our house: Don't help until she asks for help," Willie DuBose said. "She wants to find a way to do it herself."

Said Rayna DuBose: "I don't want anybody to treat me any different than they did before. I don't want any special modifications to anything."

Hearing that doesn't surprise Henrickson.

"She's always been independent," Henrickson said. "Now she's a champion of independence. She doesn't need much help these days."

Henrickson recruited DuBose out of Oakland Mills High, where the center was a two-time Sun All-Metro selection. She spoke highly of DuBose's knowledge and love of the game.

"She's prepared to be a coach," Henrickson said. "She might get my job eventually."

Also at the awards presentation, Kentucky's Tubby Smith was named Henry Iba Coach of the Year, and Xavier's David West was named Oscar Robertson Player of the Year.

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