CARTHAGE, Mo. — At a swim meet, participants are supposed to get wet, but there wasn’t a dry eye in the pool area at the Fair Acres Family Y in Carthage as the CatTracks swim team presented one of their coaches with a massive check to help her recover from a summertime spinal cord accident.
Assistant coach Cherie Woody was present in her wheelchair at Sunday’s CatTracks Invitational/National Virtual Meet to cheer her swimmers on for only the second time since her accident on June 6.
At the halfway mark of the meet, everyone paused as coach Lyman Burr and Fair Acres Director Jonathan Roberts presented Woody with a check for $10,000, money the team raised at a swim-a-thon they held in October at which swimmers logged a collective 90-plus miles in about four hours.
Two of the swimmers, Madison Riley, 15, and Elena Wright, 16, were recognized for swimming the farthest. Riley swam 232 laps in the Y’s pool, an equivalent of about 7 miles, and Wright swam 210 laps, or about 6 1/4 miles.
They received $50 checks for their effort, which both girls promptly gave to Woody on top of the main donation.
“She’s such an amazing person and she deserves everything we can give her, she just does,” Wright said after the presentation.
“I don’t need the money," Riley said. "I don’t have anything I’m going to use it on. And even if I did, she needs it because those medical bills have to be so expensive, and it’s the least I could do to help her.”
Woody said she was appreciative, but she planned to buy the two girls something with their money.
“That’s what swimming does,” Woody said. “They know the example they set in everything they do. Being on a team with kids from ages 5 to 18, you kind of drive that into the older kids. They have to set an example for the younger kids."
'Just a freak accident'
Burr said he’s known Woody for about six years, and she’s been an assistant coach with him for three or four years.
Woody said she started coaching when her two children, Braxton, now 13, and Makayla, 9, started swimming, and continued after they lost interest and moved on to other sports.
She also coached youth basketball before her accident and participated in a local CrossFit fitness organization while working at the dental office of her father, Dr. Michael Woody, in Carthage.
“I was finally finding my little niche, where I belong,” Woody said. “I found a family with my CrossFit community, and for three years I’ve been converting my fat to muscle. It all changed in a blink of an eye, and now I’m working my way back up from literal ground zero.”
Woody said that on June 6 she had just taken her son to camp in Branson and was with her daughter at a friend’s home socializing and swimming.
Woody said she dove into the pool, striking her head on the concrete floor. She said she remained conscious throughout the accident.
“It was just a freak accident, and it could happen to anybody,” Woody said. “I just dove in a little bit too sharp of an angle and broke my neck. I had use of my right arm and I floated up next to one of my friends and he turned my head over in the water and he said ‘Cherie, are you OK?’ I said, ‘Help.’”
She said her friends got her out of the pool and called an ambulance. Woody said she knew instantly she was in trouble.
“They laid me on the side of the pool and asked, ‘Do we need to call 911?’” Woody said. “I said, ‘I can’t feel my legs, and I feel like I’m floating. Call 911 and call my dad.’”
Woody was taken to Mercy Hospital Joplin, where X-rays confirmed she had dislocated two vertebrae in her neck. She was transferred to Mercy Hospital Springfield, where doctors performed two surgeries to stabilize her neck and vitals.
She was in Springfield for almost two weeks before she was flown to Craig Hospital in Denver, which specializes in helping people recover from spinal cord injuries.
“I had an incomplete spinal injury, which means there is hope for me to walk again,” Woody said. "It depends upon if you can get your toes to wiggle, if you can send those signals down. You have to wait for the swelling and all of the shock to your spinal column to subside before you can find out what kind of returns you can get. And it depends on if you give up or not.”
For someone who was an active person, used to being fit and working out, the patience required for the rehabilitation that lay ahead was hard to come by.
“Mental attitude is so, so important in this recovery,” said Linda Woody, Cherie’s mother and caregiver for these past months. “This is patience as much as anything, and this (Cherie) is not a patient person.”
The Woodys had nothing but good things to say about their 90 days or so at Craig Hospital.
“They’re so supportive, they give you everything in their power to get you set up right,” Cherie Woody said. “They handle all of your insurance, they tell your insurance what you need then they make sure your insurance covers it. Then whatever your insurance won’t cover, they work toward getting it covered by their foundation.”
As she recovered, a community of almost 3,000 people monitored and prayed for her on a Facebook page created for them, Cherie Woody Update and Uplift group.
The Woodys update that page every week or so with photos and information about how she’s progressing.
In the meantime, Cherie Woody is looking forward to continued progress and the time she can return to coaching full time.
“It was really, really good getting back with the swim team,” Cherie Woody said. “Whenever I came for the swim-a-thon, just being around my people and just the love that I feel, and I just feel able. They make me feel like I can.”