Aug. 31, 2009
Rome, Ga. - The scars may not be obvious at first glance, but they are there.
Those scars are certainly not limited to physical wounds.
Although they include two steel rods inserted into each femur - the largest bones in the body that were literally shattered and led doctors to believe that she would never walk normally again - those scars, those legs will eventually heal.
What will take time to heal are the emotional scars that linger with Shorter College soccer player Tamar Watson.
Last January, Watson was looking forward to returning to Rome after the Christmas holiday to finish her career with the Lady Hawks. Instead, she wound up seeing her life change forever when she was involved in a fatal, single-car accident that took the life of her best friend, Giselle Salandy, on the outskirts of Port-of-Spain in her home country of Trinidad and Tobago.
"It was the hardest and most difficult days of my life," said Watson, who just eight months after the tragic crash stunned Shorter's coaching and training staff by returning to the College. "I was thinking I'd never walk normally again and I'd never play again and knowing that Giselle was not here any more - it was hard."
Watson is not only walking, but may soon return to practice and continue her soccer career that included a stint with Trinidad's U-20 National Team.
"Giselle and I worked hard to get where we were despite the problems we had growing up," Watson said of her close relationship with Salandy, a world-class boxer. "What keeps me going is that I know she'd tell me to get up, work hard and keep going."
Watson can only recall the before and after of that Jan. 4 turn of events, which started with the two friends embarking on a long trip together. Both were tired and Salandy urged Watson to sit in the passenger seat and get some rest.
"I didn't want to fall asleep and tried to stay awake with her," Watson recalls. "But when I put my seat back a little, I went right to sleep."
The accident itself, when their car hit a culvert and was sent into one of the concrete pillars supporting a bridge, is still a blur. Watson can only guess that her friend nodded off.
"I was pulled out of the accident literally by angels," she said.
And that, Watson points out, started the healing process.
"The Lord definitely has a plan for my life," Watson said. "He wants me to do what is right and now I'm starting to find out what it is."
Encouraged by her faith in God and a belief that Salandy would have wanted her to never give up, Watson was first faced with the hard facts presented by her severe leg injuries - that her days of walking normally and competing on the soccer field may be in jeopardy.
Watson, however, had other plans.
"When the doctors told me that I may never walk normally again, I just said `We'll see about that!'" said Watson. "I have a goal, and I have God and Giselle above."
After being confined to a wheelchair for five months, Watson had had enough. She decided to stand up on her own and began taking small steps.
"I'd get up and take a few steps on my own," Watson said. "I wasn't supposed to and the doctors were upset about it."
Those small steps turned into bigger ones, and weeks after taking those initial steps she was in rehabilitation twice a day and doing more work on her own.
"I'd add on going to the pool, to the beach or to the gym," said Watson. "It was exhausting, but it helped me and it helped ease the stress as well."
Before the Lady Hawks reported for preseason drills in early August, head coach Josh Severns learned that Watson was at the point where she could return to Shorter for the fall semester.
"We had talked about her coming back, finishing at Shorter and being a part of the team," Severns said. "But we had no idea of just how far she has come. I know T's attitude. She is very determined and has a lot of passion about what she does.
"I know it was tough on her, but she has focused on getting back on the field."
Watson's love of the game and high level of skill on the pitch is evident from her status in Trinidad - the country's health minister visited her in the hospital. At Shorter, Watson scored eight goals and recorded an assist in 2008, helping the Lady Hawks post their best conference record in program history.
For now, however, she remains on the sideline, quietly watching her teammates.
"They are thankful to have her back," Severns said. "But I don't think they really comprehend what she has gone through."
There is still more work, more healing ahead of her.
"This phase of her rehab, though not nearly as painful, will be a challenge," said Shorter athletic trainer Josh Tucker, who got a glimpse of Watson's initial x-rays and was amazed at the extent of injuries he had never seen before.
"Primarily we are working on regaining full range of motion in both of her knees which have stiffened due to the large amount of scarring in the quads from the initial injuries, the surgeries and general inactivity. At this point maybe, and I'm just guessing, she'll be practicing again with the team around mid-October.
"Regardless of when that is, it's simply a miracle that T is even walking around."
"She lost a very close friend," Severns said. "She lost the use of her legs for a long time. And she heard from doctors that she may never play the game she loves again.
"All of those things happened in a short period of time. We're thankful to have her back."
Watson is not hesitating to give thanks as well.
"I know I have to give something back to Shorter because they have been so good to me," Watson said, noting that from the time of her accident, Severns, her teammates and the college community called her and sent her cards and gift baskets. "All of this, what I'm doing, is purpose driven. I know that God has a plan for me.
"There is a greater things for me to do and I want to find out what they are."