By Julie Skinner
Darcy Porter has never been ordinary. She's never been a doubter, a sideline spectator or a pessimist. She's also never stopped fighting for her goals. At 23 years old, Darcy is an athlete, an advocate, a daughter, sister and friend who is less than one week away from walking across the stage on a prosthetic leg to graduate from Jacksonville State University. Her life has been full of challenges and commitments since the day she was born. Darcy Porter is well-rounded and perfectly balanced.
Darcy recalls her 11-year-old self awaiting surgery for the amputation of her right leg. She was apprehensive as doctors brought in amputees for her to speak with, and helped weigh the options of what life would be like if she chose to go through with the surgery. Even before the surgery, Darcy was in physical therapy to strengthen her body and learn how to walk with crutches without the use of her right foot. Once the amputation was complete, months of physical therapy in preparation for a prosthetic leg awaited her.
"My family made it seem like I didn't have a disability at all," Darcy says. "They'd say 'you're a little different, but that's not going to stop you.' I took that to heart early on."
In fact, when Darcy first visited Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, a non-profit organization that serves people with disabilities, they asked her what her disability was. Darcy replied, "Um, I'm not sure."
Kayla Finley, who marched in the band with Darcy at Jacksonville High School, recalls meeting her for the first time at band camp. While Darcy's shorts revealed her prosthetic leg to the band that day, Kayla explains that it was her drive and competitive spirit that made her stand out.
"She was dedicated to proving to people that she could do whatever she wanted to do," Kayla says. "When I first looked at her, I realized she had something I would never have, because I would have never been able to have the courage to walk out on the field that day."
Darcy explains that she grew up the youngest of five children in a family that revolved around sports. With parents and siblings who refused to treat her as though she were any different, her competitive nature blossomed early on. In 2006, she won an essay competition and was able to attend the Paralympics in Italy with her parents. Her essay was entitled "What Ability Means to Me."
"The Paralympics was just amazing," says Darcy with a smile. "I was finally getting to see what it meant to have a disability and still be competitive."
Darcy soon fell in love with wheelchair basketball after attending a tournament through the Lakeshore Foundation. After talking with the coach after the game, he invited her to come to a practice sometime. At the very next practice, Darcy showed up with her overflowing energy. When the coach placed her in a wheelchair to try it out, she immediately took off. The coach was wowed, and you could say she never looked back. She played for Lakeshore until she graduated from high school in 2008, and then went on to play for a team in Atlanta. She just finished another season there.
Her success and drive bled over into her college career at Jacksonville State University where Darcy chose to major in Exercise Science and Wellness and became close with staff in the Disability Support Services office. Director of Counseling and Disability Support Services Julie Nix began her job at JSU in the fall of 2009. Darcy is one of the first students she remembers meeting.
"She's just a joy to be around," Julie says. "She's basically had a plan the whole time I've known her, and has stayed on task for that plan."
Born with the defect that required her amputation, Darcy was also born with mild to moderate hearing loss. The Disability Support Services office, which consists of a staff of about six people and provides services for over 350 students at JSU, helped Darcy with the accommodations she needed in order to succeed.
"I would definitely contribute a lot of my success at JSU to the DSS office because any time I would have any issues, they were just really great as far as giving me all the accommodations they thought would help me."
Darcy used captionists and note takers from time to time in classes when she had trouble hearing the professor. She was also coached on how to schedule her classes so that she had ample time to make it from one side of campus to another.
"Darcy never voiced a complaint in regard to her disability," says Disability Specialist Katy Goodgame. "She's such a conscientious hard worker, and we just admire her determination. I know she's going to do well once she gets her degree and moves on."
Katy and Darcy started a club called Campus Awareness of Diverse Abilities (CADA), where Darcy served as president for two years.
When Darcy's father passed away suddenly in the middle of her college career, the DSS office helped make her transition back to classes smoother, but Darcy never slowed down. She continued to excel even through her grief.
"They really and truly helped me during that time," Darcy says. "They had talked to my professors and had everything I needed. They helped me get caught up before I even came back to classes."
Darcy just completed her summer internship at the Lakeshore Foundation where she worked on staff for various events ranging from injured military camps to youth camps. Now that Darcy is about to graduate, she plans to train harder for wheelchair basketball and see what opportunities await her in the job market.
"A quote I always go back to that I was told early on is 'don't look at what you can't do,'" says Darcy. "Everyone must find that one thing you know you will succeed at and just build off of that."
There's no doubt that Darcy has more than one thing that she has found in order to help her succeed, and though she may not realize it, she's made a lasting impact on many who know her.
"When I think of people who are inspiring and who have helped me obtain my goals, I think of Darcy. Not because she's an amputee, but because of many things. She just makes things better when you're having a bad day," Kayla says. "It's hard to put into words how inspiring she is."
From all of us at Jacksonville State University, we want to say congratulations to Darcy Porter. We are proud to have you as a Gamecock and part of our family.
Photo: Darcy Porter (courtesy)