By: Tammie Hiatt
“My last memories of breathing or walking on my own are here in Shawnee,” said Kelly Blanton of Taylorsville, N.C. when she addressed a joint civic luncheon on the OBU campus in Shawnee during the 20th IFYR. “I made the trip back here for closure for myself and to thank everyone in Oklahoma for being so kind to me and my mother.”
“I want to tell you about the person I was before I got hurt. I was on the go all of the time. I was going to rodeos, riding my horses. I played tennis, ran track and was active in the FFA. I was so excited to be heading to college. I was a typical 18-year-old girl. I had hoped to go to the National High School Rodeo Association finals with my friends, but I barely missed it and decided to come to the IFYR instead.”
“I was up Monday night in the breakaway roping. It was hot and I had gone bowling with some friends. My mom had called me and was fussing at me that I needed to get back to the arena and get some practice calves run before the performance. It was about 4:00 p.m. and I was rushing around and I turned in my tickets at the practice arena to run my calves. I backed my horse up in the box and nodded for the calf. I was getting outrun, so I kicked my horse three times pretty hard and he bucked. I’ve had horses buck before but never as hard as this time.”
“I went off on his left side and landed on my forehead and my body bent over me. I didn’t realize it at that moment, but nothing hurt. I just knew I couldn’t breathe. That’s when I met Morgan Patton from Dalton, GA. She was the first to reach me in the arena. She stabilized my neck with her hands and kept talking to me and reassuring me that I probably just had the wind knocked out of me and trying to keep me calm. I finally ask her where my arms were because I couldn’t feel them or anything.”
“Morgan has become a really close friend. She told my mom, Geri about the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, GA. It is one of the best rehab centers in the country for my type of injuries. I spent several months there and Morgan came to visit every week. We have forged a strong bond. She has now learned all of my care and has moved in with us for the summer.”
“I’m very thankful that I was there that night in that arena, I have gained an awesome friend,” said Morgan of her experience. “I had planned to stay in North Carolina and start college but the out of state tuitions are too high, so I will go back to Georgia when summer is over.”
Kelly went on, “I wonder if this accident hadn’t happened where I would be today. I wish I was in school and hanging out with my friends but then I wouldn’t have met everyone and all of the great therapists and friends I have made. I’ll never forget my mom’s frantic face when she got to me. I told her I was ok and I am. There has been so many good things come from this and a lot of bad ones as well,” said Kelly.
“It’s tested my friendships. Some people I’ve been with every day of my life won’t speak to me now. But I’ve made so many new friends. The hardest thing for me is to not be able to do anything for myself. I can’t use my phone when I want to. The only thing I can do for myself is driving this wheelchair and it is so frustrating. It’s hard to watch people do stuff that I used to do all of the time.“
Kelly’s longtime friend, Bailey Hewat, also accompanied the Blanton’s and Morgan to Shawnee. “I met Kelly in 9th grade and we rodeoed together. I had wanted to come to the IFYR too, but I had made the high school nationals and my dad said I couldn’t go to both. Her accident happened two days before I left. My first reaction was to want to fly to Oklahoma City to be with her but I knew what she would tell me and that was to go on and compete. As soon as I got back I went to Atlanta to be with her. The hardest thing for me right now is that I am going to Texas to college and won’t be close to Kelly as much. She told me to go, that it was okay. That’s why I am here in Shawnee with her this year, because I wasn’t here for her last year,” said Bailey tearfully.
“If I didn’t have a strong faith, I don’t think I could have survived this,” said Kelly. “I don’t understand God’s plan for me but I know I need to stay faithful. I didn’t ask God to heal me because I thought it was selfish. It’s hard to go through this, though, and I do question why he did this to me. I’ve taken out of my accident to be a witness to Him. When I get to Heaven, I will be able to finally ask him, why? It was hard to come back to Oklahoma and it was very hard the first day here. But I would be doing you in Oklahoma wrong if I didn’t come back to say thank you.”
“I am planning to go back to school and study biology and animal science. I like hanging out with my friends and going to the mall shopping and getting my nails done. I like to speak a lot of my faith and tell my story. I want people to learn that changes come and they open a lot of opportunities that can change a person.”