Catching hope: High school softball player uses gratitude to deal with paralysis

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 21 2012 8:15 p.m. MST

Samantha Guillory, shown at University Hospital in Salt Lake City in September with her mother, Jill, is adjusting to life back home again.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

NEPHI — Jill Guillory heard the words the doctor spoke, but she couldn't accept what they meant.

"She'll have a horrible life," Guillory recalled the doctor say in the hours after her 17-year-old daughter was involved in a car accident that broke two vertebrae in her neck. "And so will you. What kind of life is it if you can't move?"

The mother of six covered her ears and wept for the life her athletic, independent, tough little girl lost in a matter of minutes.

"I couldn't listen," she said through tears. "I was going to throw up. I thought I'd die. And then she comes out of surgery and lifts up her arms. It was just a lot of very interesting things going on; I'm not sure what I felt. Hope — I guess that's what it is — hope."

Born to play

Sam Guillory was born a natural athlete. She was built for power, with the kind of mental toughness that makes for success. Her mom giggles and grins through tears when she recalls how doctors marveled at the newborn's strength.

Fiercely independent, naturally adventurous and athletically gifted, Sam found her purpose on the softball field.

"She's got a heck of a gun," said Juab High softball coach Alley Gee when asked to describe Guillory's softball skills. "And she can hit. Oh, can she hit. She knows the game; she's just smart."

Gee summed Sam up in one word — stubborn. And that's a compliment, the coach clarifies.

"A determined girl with an attitude and very, very athletic," said Gee, smiling. "Things come very easy for her. She's a great, great player."

All summer, Bob and Jill Guillory and Sam's five siblings enjoyed watching the 17-year-old play the game she loved. The coach of the accelerated team told Jill that her daughter was not only good enough to play in college, but that she was capable of earning a scholarship.

"She was just amazing," said her married older sister Mariah Matesen. "I loved watching her. She's so good and she worked so hard to be good."

More than just about anything, Sam said she loved being behind the plate. It was the prefect combination of power and pressure for a girl who loves being in the middle of the action but shies away from attention.

"It's scary because you don't want to miss any balls," said Sam as she tried to clear the mucus from her throat, an act made infinitely more difficult because swallowing is now a challenge. "But it's cool at the same time, because you can see the whole field. You can see everything that's going on."

Sam and her mom Jill try to remember when and why she began playing sports — volleyball, softball and basketball — but it was difficult to remember those first moments because the games have always been part of her.

"Anything with a ball," said Jill, laughing. "If there was a sport, she was in; but softball was her favorite."

Her mom has decorated her hospital room at the University of Utah with pictures of Sam in her catcher's gear. It might seem that seeing what she was just a few weeks ago would be too painful. But it is the hope of being that again that keeps her from sinking into despair.

Sports aren't just an outlet for Sam Guillory. It's who she is. Life without athletics of some kind doesn't seem to be an option.

"It's definitely kept me in shape," said Sam, as she struggles again to clear her throat so she can express herself completely. "Sports is everything. That's where I met my friends; that's where my friends are today. Softball is just the best. I think it's definitely made me — me."

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