When Deanna Babcock, '06, was twice voted by her teammates as the most inspirational member of the Briton cross country team, perhaps it was foreshadowing. No one could have predicted the adversity she would be forced to overcome soon after her graduation from Albion College.
Besides running cross country, Babcock was a member of Albion's track team, competing in the 1500-meter run and pole vault. Yet it was her dream since high school to be a triathlete.
"She was a very intense competitor," cross country coach Hayden Smith said. "She was very positive and upbeat, and a real joy to be around."
After enrolling at North Carolina State University to pursue a Master's Degree in Soil Science, Babcock quickly joined the school's triathlon club. Triathlon combines swimming, biking, and running into one race. Babcock, who had already completed a handful of triathlon events, was training for the Ironman Florida event when tragedy struck.
Babcock was training in the pool when her heart stopped. After nearly drowning, lifeguards performed CPR and hypothermia protocol to maintain her brain and organ function. Because of kidney failure and other problems, Babcock's arteries collapsed, and her left leg would have to be amputated above the knee. She spent four weeks in a coma and 55 days in the hospital — but against all odds she survived.
"I was devastated when I learned she might not survive," Lesley Jones, '07, said. "By the grace of God and the skill of the talented medical team at WakeMed Health and Hospital, I was able to visit her several weeks later when she had emerged from her coma."
Babcock's recovery was not easy. At first she required assistance for everyday tasks such as lifting her laptop computer. Even sitting up in bed left her out of breath.
"When I came out of a coma I was incredibly deconditioned," Babcock said. "From there the personal goal wasn't to get active, it was to get better."
However, the support of Babcock's friends, coaches, and family proved invaluable. They encouraged her to keep pursuing her fitness goals. They recognized that despite her accident, she was still the same person.
"I quickly discovered that her personality was intact, and the first thing she said to me when I visited her was 'Hi, coach, how are you doing?'" Smith said. "She was the same old Deanna. Her intellect was still there."
Babcock acknowledges just how important that encouragement was. She said it was their support that kept her from giving up when she was at her lowest points.
"That's what friends are for. All of the times when you are not confident, it's friends who let you know that you got this," Babcock said. "They helped me carry my vision when I couldn't do it myself."
Babcock's training started slowly, and increased incrementally. In the beginning she could ride only five minutes on the stationary bike. She would swim just 25 yards before taking a break. Still, her effort remained resolute.
"I have been especially amazed at Deanna's attitude towards athletics," Jones said. "I think Deanna's ability to adapt to new situations has been a critical asset to her while learning to adjust to life after the accident."
Her training eventually paid off, and today Babcock has returned to triathlon. She also runs in road-race competitions and swims competitively as well. She is usually the only physically challenged athlete participating.
"I do check to see how many able-bodied competitors I beat," Babcock said. "Every race I beat a few able-bodied people and always have a chuckle over that."
Babcock has even qualified for the United States Paralympic Trials in swimming in the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle. She could potentially compete in the 2012 London Paralympic Games. However, her goal is to qualify for the paratriathlon at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil.
Babcock can qualify for the Brazil Paralympics by one of two ways. She could make the cut by competing well in the 2015 National Paratriathlon Series. The other way is to win her category in the 2016 Paratriathlon National Championship.
Besides competing in triathlons, Babcock is continuing her education. After graduating from North Carolina State in 2008, she is now studying for an additional master's degree in exercise science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"One side effect of the accident is I realized that life is short," Babcock said. "So I'm gonna do what I love to do. I like the environment, but I love fitness, so I think I'm gonna stick with that."