September 16, 2013

Lake City - Kenzie Gorden hoped her last year of high school would be made of friends and football games and fun. She needed a break from the three months of her life that were consumed by a crash, paralysis and rehabilitation. But the reminders were everywhere. It took 20 minutes just to put on clothes in the morning. Her brother Nick lifted her in and out of trucks to go to school. Students opened doors for her. "Everybody wants to help. Sometimes it annoys me," she lamented. But her family, friends and community boosted her, too. They named Kenzie homecoming queen her first week back and gave thousands of dollars to help her walk again.

Kenzie, then 18, had several physical therapy sessions each week at Stewart Memorial Community Hospital, where they mimicked the exercises used by the experts at the renowned Colorado hospital who treated Kenzie before she returned to Lake City.

She practiced walking her weak legs in a local pool.

She wheeled onto a gymnasium floor as part of her dance team's competition in Des Moines, when they turned out the lights and twirled glow-in-the-dark sticks.

She had a date to the prom and graduated near the top of her class.

And then, there was her family who was seemingly always with her.

They were there when she was crowned homecoming queen.

They watched Green Bay Packers games on Sundays and ate chili.

They flanked her for her television interviews.

Her mother Karen was nearby nearly every day since the crash. Her father Steve built a wheelchair-accessible suite on their Lake City house. Her brother Nick carried her when she needed it. Her sisters Brittanie and Stephanie made T-shirts and solicited money to help her recovery.

They raised more than $15,000 to cover the costs that her insurance wouldn't.

And then more good news. The Colorado hospital selected Kenzie for a state-of-the-art program to help her walk again. She would stay there for two months to work with a cutting-edge machine to teach her legs to move.

There was hope.