Defining TOUGH



INTERVIEW BY Martha Thomas      PORTRAIT BY Mary C. Gardella

After coming home to visit her parents in Columbia in 2002, then college freshman Rayna DuBose returned to Virginia Tech feelingdefining_tough2 a little run down and collapsed the next day. Diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, DuBose lost both hands and both feet. Now 32, she coaches basketball and football at Marriotts Ridge High School and also gives motivational speeches to business groups.

Q How did it all start?
I came home with a teammate over Easter break to chill. We went out with friends and had a great weekend, but I was feeling really run down. When I got back to school, I wasn’t feeling right; I was dizzy and hot. I was sweating. I passed out in study hall. They told me I was dehydrated, so I went to the hospital and they pumped me with a couple bags of fluids. The next day, we had mandatory team photos. My roommate carried me to the locker room. My teammates got me dressed and did my hair. After pictures, they dressed me back in my sweatpants. I sat on the couch and the assistant coach came over and said, “Rayna, what are you going to
do? You going to class today?” There was no way I was going to class. She drove me to the on-campus doctor, I remember them putting me in a wheelchair, and as soon as they rolled me through the door I blacked out. I was out for three weeks, those three weeks felt like a wonderful nap. Waking up, it seemed like the next day. I’m saying I have an 8 a.m. class, I’ve got things to do. I tried to jump out of bed. But my plastic surgeon tells me he has to amputate all of my limbs. My parents were standing on the side of my bed.

Q Your whole life changed …
Yes, that was the time I was supposed to take off as an athlete. But 13 years later, I look at myself and say, this is the best accident. I just signed a contract as the head boys JV (junior varsity) basketball coach at Marriott’s Ridge. I love the bond I’ve built with the guys and knowing I can pull the best out of everyone. With JV, it’s like you’re molding them to see how great they can be. They think they’re good, and I say, no, I want to put you deeper into the game, dissect what your defender is going to do, how to make a move. Sports has always been life for me.

Q Tell us about the motivational speaking.
I go into schools and colleges to talk about overcoming adversity. For example, a construction company reached out and wanted me to speak to them. Wells Fargo too. What do I have in common with these two? I broke it down to teamwork, and motivation and working with a group. We have trials and hurdles we have to jump over at work. How do we accomplish those without getting too frustrated?

Q So how do you?
Since we’re in football season, I’ll talk about football players. Every Tuesday and Thursday we do speed, agility and quickness. Everything is real intense, hardcore, pushing your body to the max. When I participate with them, I am constantly shouting out words of encouragement, togetherness, toughness, team spirit. Or I’m throwing out quotes or definitions. Recently it was “tough.” I asked them if they knew the definition of tough in the dictionary. They’re all, you know, flexing their muscles. I said, no not that kind of tough. Tough is being able to withstand any object in front of you no matter how great the force. Even walking out this door can take mental toughness. When they see me participate, give my 100 percent effort in the drills, it means a lot. Sometimes I don’t have to say anything.

Q I would think you just standing there with a smile on your face would go a long way.
I really enjoy this experience I’ve been given in life. It’s opened my eyes to so much more. I still love sports – especially basketball – and working out. This is first nature to me, when I wake up in the morning and put my prosthetics on, it’s natural. It’s something nobody will ever understand unless they are walking in my shoes.

defining_tough1Q You have a strong presence. How tall are you?
In my everyday feet I’m 5’10”

Q What do you mean everyday feet?
I have 5 different prosthetics. I put a converse sole on the bottom of one pair – they’re blades. I have high heel feet, with 6-inch stilettos.

Q Is it weird for you? When people do a double take, or try not to look?
The worst is when people stare. I’m a social butterfly. I’d rather you ask me and learn, rather than just stare at me.

Q Has your personality changed?
I’m extremely impatient now. I think because for a long period of time, I was constantly at someone else’s beck and call. If I was hungry, I’d have to wait till someone was finished doing what they were doing to feed me. If I had to go to the bathroom I had to wait for someone. It finally got to the point where I had to figure out how to do things for myself. I was going to therapy, they said don’t try this at home, you could hurt yourself. I was like, “Whatever,” falling out of the bed, rolling and scooting around. The first time I climbed up the steps to the second floor of my parents’ house, I felt like Rocky. I had been living in the dining room and I wanted to get back up to my room. I didn’t want my parents lives turned upside down. I didn’t want them to have to raise me; they’d already done that, but I was an infant again.

Q Have you been depressed?
I’ve never been on meds. I don’t really get too depressed. I had a therapist when I was in school. I fought it for a long time, but once I gave in it was the best thing I’d ever done.

Q Do you remember a moment when you made a decision and turned your attitude around?
I tried being a sourpuss. It didn’t work. I was pushing my friends away. I hate being alone, unless it’s on my terms. I’d rather come and sit on your couch all day than sit on mine. I like to be out and about. When I was in college, a group of us lived in a big house, 11 of us. They all knew I liked to do the grocery shopping. Sometimes when I was putting away groceries, I would pack my arm in a cabinet so it would fall out and hit someone in the head. Surprise!

Q You’re like a comedian.
That’s what people say. Sometimes my mom forgets. I’ll say, “Oh Mom, what should I do? I’m so bored.” She’ll say, “Just twiddle your thumbs.” I’m like, “Nope, can’t do that!” She just cracks up laughing. Anyone who knows me will tell you, visually I’m handicapped, but technically I’m not.

Q Is there anything you can’t do?
The only thing I gave up on is putting in stud earrings. I remember the first time I buttoned my own jeans. I leaned back on the sink and I just said, you’re going all the way in, and I got it. I didn’t have to wake up one of my roommates at 7 a.m. and ask her to button up my pants.*

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