The Comeback Kid
Rayna first returned to Virginia Tech for a weekend in the fall of 2002. At the homecoming football game, she got a standing ovation from the crowd of 65,000 at halftime. Students wearing tee shirts bearing her jersey number—15—raised $50,000 to help with her medical expenses, and an anonymous donor later kicked in another $50,000.
A month later, she was in Blacksburg again, this time sitting on the bench as her women’s basketball teammates battled the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. During a timeout, Rayna tried to stand up, lost her balance and teetered backwards into her chair. A moment later, she was up again, walking to the huddle. “Did you see that?” Willie DuBose asked his wife. “She’s fearless.”
Her friends, her teammates, her family—all quickly learned to treat her just like when her arms and legs were made of human flesh. Not to show her any pity. Rayna made it crystal clear that she didn’t want any help unless she asked for it. So, no matter how much they’d want to lend a hand, they wouldn’t. They’d watch her grow tense and struggle for 5, 10, 15 minutes as she tried to get her shoes on over her rubber feet. Finally, sweating and frustrated, she’d say, “Well, aren’t you going to help?”
And they’d say, “Not unless you ask.”
Then everyone would have a good laugh.
In May 2003, only a year after her amputations, Rayna came back to Virginia Tech for good. Refusing to live in the handicapped-accessible dorm room on the ground floor as her parents urged, she instead took an off-campus apartment with a pair of teammates. The place wouldn’t be ready for another month, so she spent the first month at a temporary apartment at the bottom of a steep hill. The bus stop that Rayna would use was a half-mile away, straight up the hill. When Willie first saw that hill, he just shook his head. “I don’t see how she can do this,” he said at the time. “She’s going to fall down, and we’re never even going to hear about it.”
Maybe she fell down. Maybe she didn’t. But Willie and Andrea DuBose never did hear about it.
Those next four years went fast. Rayna kept her scholarship, and she rejoined the basketball team as a student assistant coach. Whatever the team did, she did. She helped out in the low post, playing defense like the dominating center she’d once been. She’d grab rebounds, run the floor with her teammates. She’d work out with them in the weight room. And when they were doing drills she couldn’t, she’d cheer.
She attended the games, traveled with the team on road trips. She still felt like part of the team. And she was.
Rayna graduated from Virginia Tech in May with a degree in consumer studies. Of course, her mother wanted her to come back home to Maryland. But Rayna did what most 23-year-olds do in that situation: She refused.
Instead, she decided to stay in Blacksburg. She got an apartment with a friend and a part-time job as a study-hall monitor to generate some cash. She hits the gym three times a week, riding a stationary bike or working out with a personal trainer. She travels a lot, to West Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Atlanta, mostly to visit friends and family. And she’s been working on her website (raynadubose.net) and building toward a longer-term goal—a career as a motivational speaker.
“I want to tell people about surviving meningitis. About living with prosthetics. I want to help inspire new people.”