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Paraplegic coach gets some solo walks in
Never say never
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The definition of a coach is someone who can instruct, direct or guide an individual or group to achieve a specific goal. It takes someone with determination and stamina, especially when dealing with a group of adolescents such as high school children.
Often coaches are people who can lead by example and help to develop a sense of purpose for those around them.
If you were to place a picture in the dictionary next to that word, you would be hard pressed to choose one above all others. But when it comes to overcoming obstacles and having the determination and faith necessary to overcome a life-changing incident the picture becomes that of Bradwell’s girls basketball coach, Faye Baker.
In October 2000, Baker was riding in a 15-passenger van with her church group, headed to South Carolina to visit another congregation. The van was traveling on I-95 just inside South Carolina when a back tire blew out. The driver was not able to control the vehicle, and the van ran off the road and flipped three times. Baker suffered a broken neck and severe injury to her spinal cord, paralyzing her from the waist down instantly. 
She was airlifted to Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah where she had a spinal fusion to put her vertebrae back together in an effort to recreate the framework of her spine, give her stability and save her life. The prognosis from her neurologist was that Baker would never walk again.
“I can remember right after the accident I had very little motor skills. My assistant coach at the time, Warnella Wilder, brought me a small, spongelike basketball, and when I went to throw it, I couldn’t even throw it passed my knees,” Baker recalled. “I couldn’t dress myself, button a button, brush my teeth. But when the doctors told me I would never walk again, that was just a notion I would not entertain.”
Baker spent 10 days at Memorial before going to the Shepherd’s Center in Atlanta. The center is a critical damage rehabilitation hospital primarily for the treatment of spinal, brain and neurological injuries.
“While in the hospital in Savannah I pretty much just laid in bed and you know that just makes you weaker. When I arrived at Shepherd’s, they processed me in and then every morning they would get me up at 7 a.m. and keep me working all day,” Baker said.
At Shepherd’s, Baker took classes about her injuries. Her parents were given lessons on how to provide care. It was at Shepherd’s where Baker began her therapy and rehabilitation.
“They would place me in a body harness and lift my body up and place me on a treadmill. The body harness kept the weight off my legs and then they would start the treadmill and a therapist was at each side moving my legs and physically putting my legs through the motions,” she said.
Within two weeks of rehab, Baker began to get slight movement back in her legs.
“This quick progress just inspired me to work harder and get stronger. I was anxious to get back home and get back to work with the girls and the team,” she said.
The coach says she is forever grateful for the community support during her recuperation and feels blessed for because of it.
Born and raised in Hinesville, she is a graduate of Bradwell where she played on the girls’ basketball team. She went on to play during her college days at Georgia Southern. An athlete for most of her life, she excelled in basketball, track and softball, and says being an athlete gave her an advantage to overcome her obstacles.
“I always believed if you trained hard, good things would happen. Physical therapy was extremely hard for me, it was strenuous, but the fact that I was in pretty good shape helped me.”
Anxious to get back home and back to her team, Baker set her goal to recuperate enough to get back to what she enjoys the most, coaching basketball.
“When I was still back in the hospital, Jim Walsh, Bradwell’s athletic director, came to me and said that my job would be there for me when I got back. The accident occurred a week before the season started and Janet Reddick, who is also a physical education instructor and a former coach, coached the team for me.
“I don’t think she knows how much I appreciate what she did because I knew that by her taking over the team that the team was in good hands. Coaching is what I love to do. To get the kids and teach them to play and watch them develop and teach them life skills, that motivated me to get better and get back.”
Once Baker returned, she concentrated on the girls and the team, temporarily setting aside her exercises but never losing focus on her ultimate long-term goal.
“I will walk again. I keep my faith in God and He has the last word on what is going to happen to me not the doctors. I put my faith in knowing it will happen but on His time, when He is ready for me to walk I’ll walk. My goal is to get out of this wheelchair completely,” she said.
Baker says she is in the best physical shape of her life, better than before the accident. She lost about 60 pounds since last basketball season and feels losing the weight helped her regain mobility. She works out in her home gym and rides a stationary bicycle or walks on a treadmill at least three days a week. She also trains with weights to build up her strength and walked unassisted recently with her brother watching.
“The stronger I get the easier it will be for me to walk. The progress is a slow one, every now and then you hit a plateau and you don’t see any improvement, but yesterday when I walked unassisted with my brother we could see a big difference from last summer. My balance was better everything was better.”
Her right leg is strong and she is hoping to make improvements with her left leg that continues to be stiff.
With the same perseverance and determination she instills in her team, Baker offers advise to those who may be in a similar situation.
“I don’t question what happened and I’m not angry about it. I look at it like things could have been worse. I would tell anyone to have faith and perseverance, don’t give up and don’t give in to negativity to anyone including doctors. Have faith that all things are possible from Him and then work towards it.”
Baker’s complete inspirational story was made into a book called “In His Own Time,” by Tamara Frazier, and more of her accomplishments and awards can be seen online at
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