ROANOKE RAPIDS — Listening to Crissy Garner discuss her life’s journey, one would never guess that beneath the soft spoken, placid exterior there lies the fierce determination and hard won strength of a survivor, a passionate drive to succeed hidden just beneath the surface like the metal plates fused to the bones of her arms and ankle.
That strength was first put to the test in 1989, when at the age of 19, Garner found herself raising a son on her own. “I was taking classes at the ECPI College of Technology at the time. After I had my son, I had to put everything on hold,” she remembered during a recent interview.
While temporarily unemployed during the mid-90’s, Garner joined the AmeriCorps program, taking classes at UNC Greensboro and eventually earning her Early Child Care Credentials. The pro-active approach paid off when she found work with the Halifax County School System, taking an entry-level position as a cafeteria worker,
Garner said she had just applied for a job as a teachers assistant when, on April 12, 1998 — Easter Day — she was involved in a head on collision with a drunk driver. Seriously injured in the crash, Garner was transported to the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, where she would spend the next two weeks on life support. After regaining consciousness, she was transferred to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, spending another month and a half in the physical rehabilitation unit, where she had to relearn basic motor skills. “They told me there was a possibility I might not be able to walk again or use my left arm,” said Garner. “I had to learn everything just like a baby taking its first steps.” In total, said Garner, the healing and recovery process took well over a year.
When Garner returned home she was unable to work and was placed on disability.” It changed my life completely. Everything changed,” she remembered. Though she was incapacitated, Garner said she used the time to draw closer to her two sons, Brandon and Tyrell. “I used that time to take care of the children, just spending time with them,” she recalled.
Though the recovery process was slow, Garner said she never became depressed or bitter. “I thought I was going to die. I could have felt sorry for myself and given up. But that wasn’t the case. I think it actually motivated me to think for myself and be an advocate for myself. It taught me to never take no for an answer; never be a quitter.”
Last year, acting on the advice of a friend, Garner began considering a return to school at Halifax Community College, a move she admits she was unsure of in the beginning. “At the time I was thinking, ‘I have a plate in my arm; I can’t walk long distances and I can only stand for a short amount of time. I really wasn’t too certain I could do it.”
Once Garner contacted the schools student services office however, she found her fears were unfounded, as the school offers handicap parking, tutors, and other services to facilitate the disabled. Said Garner: “That really renewed my spirit. I felt like ‘Okay, I can do this.’”
Drawing on her lifelong interest in the medical profession, Garner chose to major in Medical Office Administration. “I just want to help people; plus I’ve been taking my grandmother back and forth to doctors since I was a kid, so it just seemed natural.”
Having been away from the classroom for 20 years, Garner said it took some time for her to readjust to a scholastic schedule. Despite some early frustrations, Garner’s work ethic soon paid off — she currently boasts a 3.712 GPA.
Thursday, her efforts reaped farther dividends when she was selected as the recipient of the 2009 Daily Herald Women in Business Scholarship. “I was shocked,” said Garner. “I’m honored. I was just glad I was in the running.”
The school’s recommendation letter made it clear that Garner was the right choice. “Crissy Garner has proven herself to be dedicated, motivated, and committed to excellence,” the letter states. “She is well respected by students and faculty… Crissy Garner exemplifies the character, scholarship, and leadership abilities we seek to promote at Halifax Community College.”
Looking towards the future, Garner said she hopes to one day open a medical billing and coding office. “I believe in doing services for others and not always looking for something extra. I want to let people know, if I can do it, you can.”
Through all the hard times and struggles, Garner said she never lost sight of the blessings in her life. “I wouldn’t change any of it because it’s made me a stronger person.”
With her two sons nearly grown, Garner believes the time is right to spread her wings.
“Everything is coming full circle now. Twenty years ago I couldn’t have imagined this” she exclaimed, raising her hands towards the ceiling.” This is my time and the sky’s the limit.”