The Comeback Kid
She’s already had a few gigs, speaking to high schools and middle schools, to a group of physicians. And whenever her doctor has an amputee who’s not doing too well, Rayna’s there to give a pep talk.
“I stay busy trying to make other people happy,” she says.
But can’t that get to be a burden, trying to keep up a brave face when you’ve been through so much?
Rayna gets quiet for a moment. “I don’t want to say that it puts a lot of pressure on me, but it does.”
She still sees her doctors regularly, and she says that her overall health shows no lingering effects from her bouts with meningitis and sepsis. Miraculously, her heart and her kidneys are fine.
The phantom pains, the ones that struck where her arms no longer were, they’ve passed, too. Or maybe Rayna just doesn’t talk about them any more. With someone as stubborn and strong as she is, it’s hard to tell.
Those boys who wouldn’t pass her the ball all those years ago, they learned that Rayna wouldn’t take no for an answer. That there was no quit in her. And the day that she walked back onto the Virginia Tech court, told her coach that she was ready to go, Rayna’s teammates learned that, too.
These days, Rayna still finds her way down to the hardwood at Cassell Coliseum every once in a while. She’ll stride onto the court on those legs made of rubber and titanium, pick up a ball. No longer can she feel the little bumps on the surface, no longer do her fingers sense the smooth rubber creases that break up its orange face.
Yet even with those unfeeling prosthetic fingers, she’s taught herself to dribble again. To make her way up the floor, like she used to when thousands of Blacksburg faithful would empty their lungs, crying for another Hokie hoop. Except now, save for the plomp, plomp, plomp of Rayna’s bouncing ball, the arena is silent.
At the foul line, she’ll stop. She’ll spread her feet, swing the ball down below her waist, then launch it. “A granny shot,” she calls her underhand release. It’s a far cry from the finger rolls she once laid in, from the jumpers she used to fire from beyond the three-point line. But you know what? No matter how it’s launched, the ball still makes that same soft swish through the cotton of the net when it falls through the hoop.
And, says Rayna, “My granny shot will go in all day.”