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Former star athlete triumphs after accident that left her paralyzed

By Deangelo Mcdaniel

The Decatur Daily

Published: Sunday, March 30 2014 9:43 a.m. MDT

Without another word, she picks up one of the wheels and the seat of her wheelchair. After pushing the driver's seat as far back as it will go, she assembles half the wheelchair before attaching the second wheel outside the car.

She locks the brakes on both wheels before lifting her body from the car into the wheelchair. A few seconds later, she is rolling herself up the handicap ramp to her third-grade classroom.

For Courtney Boyll, this is routine.

Teachers and administrators say she has that routine down, and they only offer to help when the weather is bad.

Cook said Boyll's students learn more from her example than they ever could from a book.

"They know they can't complain and make excuses because she never does," she says.

Students Wyatt Dutton and Brooklyn Graham — both youth athletes — admire and appreciate her effort.

"She takes her time and helps us," Dutton says.

They also like that her room has an athletic theme. The massive cardboard cutouts hanging from the ceiling are shaped like basketball uniforms and have terms on them like "slam-dunk spelling" and "victorious vocabulary."

On a shelf, she has basketballs signed by teams from Alabama and Auburn from 20 years ago, when she was recovering in Children's Hospital in Birmingham.

She also has a basketball and volleyball autographed by middle school teams she coached at East Lawrence. They sometimes serve as conversation pieces for students who may be struggling and need a pat on the back.

But they are also a reminder of a dream long ago left behind.

In 1994, as a high school sophomore, she already had played on four Hatton state volleyball championship teams and was starting catcher on two state softball championship teams.

Two days before her accident, the Alabama Sports Writers Association selected her first-team all-state in basketball. Standing 5-foot-9 but playing mostly around the goal, Courtney averaged 25 points and eight rebounds in her last basketball season.

College recruiters, who generally came to watch opposing upperclassmen, were taking notice of her ability. In a game against rival Mars Hill, one Division I basketball recruiter called Courtney the best player he had seen that season.

She wanted to play basketball at the University of Alabama and had received recruiting letters from the Crimson Tide coach, Rick Moody.

She had finished her sophomore basketball season and was playing softball in March. In her final game before the wreck, Courtney got the hit that drove in the winning run in the final inning against Speake.

After the team's practice on March 16, 1994, she went to visit a friend — as she and other teammates did after most practices.

She left for home about 8 p.m. and was traveling on Lawrence County 136, a dark, curvy road.

"I hit a dip and the car started fish-tailing," Courtney remembered.

The vehicle hit a tree, and though she said she was wearing a seat belt, the force of the impact threw her into the back seat. Courtney was conscious but couldn't raise her body.

About five miles away, her father heard emergency vehicles racing past his home on Alabama 157. Richard Hatton, one of his former players, knocked on his door.

"He told me Courtney had been in an accident," Royal Carpenter said.

Her older sister, Robyn, was a freshman at Jacksonville State University when their father called. He told Robyn about the accident and said Courtney was OK. He also said their former pastor, who lived near Jacksonville, was coming to be with her until her brother came to get her. Then he hung up quickly.

The message confused Robyn. If her sister was OK, why was their brother coming to take her out of college?

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