Out of the junior high student's mouth came the tough questions.
The teen, teachers said, had an unsettled life, living here and then there. He seldom talked to anyone about anything. But in this auditorium in a Georgia junior high, he looked right at Kelly Blanton, of Taylorsville, N.C., and spoke up.
Blanton sat before him in a wheelchair, the result of a spinal cord accident suffered when her horse bucked her off in a practice arena in July 2011 during the International Finals Youth Rodeo in Shawnee.
“Do you think people treat you different now?” he asked.
Before she could answer, he added another, “Are you the same person you were before you got hurt?”
Blanton didn't go to the school for pity. She came for questions like this. She believed the questions came from his heart and knew the answers would come from hers.
“Yes, I am the same person, but some people don't treat me the same,” she said. “Some people who knew me before treat me differently because they knew the Kelly who could do whatever I put my mind to.”
True, she can't do that physically. But there's still a lot that Blanton, 19, can accomplish when she puts her mind to it. Such as when she got off the ventilator in April or her plans to leave in August to attend North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C.
Going to North Carolina State was part of her plans for life when she arrived in Shawnee for the rodeo two years ago.
Before and after
Before the accident, Blanton was involved in her church youth group, had served as the FFA president her senior year and was all-conference on the tennis team her senior year. She also threw the discus in track and field. But she really loved animals and wanted to study in the animal science program at North Carolina State.
But on July 11, 2011, while preparing to compete at the International Finals Youth Rodeo, Blanton was bucked off her horse. She had no movement from the sternum down.
However, her mind is now set on picking up where she left off on that dream, with a few variations. She took some classes in fall 2012 at a community college to make sure she could handle the college life. She determined it was possible.
Blanton may pursue a double-major at North Carolina State, studying animal science and psychology. The latter comes from life after the accident.
“I might want to be a counselor, counseling people with spinal cord injuries and brain injuries. I was inspired by my counselor at the Shepherd Center,” Blanton said, referring to the rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta. “She is always so easy to talk to.”