Tending goal

Soccer goalie Keith-Ann Wagner inspires others as she overcomes a spinal cord injury.

Tending goal

Soccer goalie Keith-Ann Wagner inspires others as she overcomes a spinal cord injury.

They were just going to see a movie.

It was the 4th of July and junior Keith-Ann Wagner had spent the weekend water skiing at the lake with friends. After a fireworks display that evening, she and two friends loaded into a convertible and headed to the theater.

A few minutes later, a car careened through a stop sign and slammed into the convertible. When the movement stopped, Wagner found herself pinned under the car. She was awake and alive, but could no longer feel her legs. Her arms were weak and oddly tingly.

“She had called me just before they left,” said her mother, Shirley Wagner. “She’d spent the whole weekend doing dangerous things, and I was relieved she was just going to the movies. They weren’t doing anything wrong, it just happened.”

It just happened.

That might be a mantra for the family that has faced a devastating crisis.

TCU’s starting soccer goalie had broken her neck, with no prognosis for recovery. Wagner spent two months in the hospital before returning home helpless and in a wheelchair, a cervical halo screwed into her skull.

The halo would prove to be the most onerous of trials; seven months later the halo is still in place, and doctors say it will be several more before the uncomfortable and often painful apparatus can be safely removed.

Despite the depressing circumstances, Wagner’s movie-star smile remains firmly in place.

“I realized I could look at this two ways,” she said. “I could either be mad at everyone and God for letting this happen, or I can be thankful that I had been blessed to be a good athlete before because it’s helped me get through so much.”

On this day in February, Wagner is resting briefly on dandelion-yellow sheets in her sunny apartment bedroom. One of her roommates stops in, then leaves to prepare for their “important date” that afternoon.

Wagner bubbles with excitement at the thought. “The whole [soccer] team is coming to watch me walk this afternoon,” she said, flashing dimples that would make Shirley Temple envious. “The coach let them all out of practice.” Walking stiffly between parallel bars is a recent accomplishment.

A few months after the accident, movement and feeling began to return slowly to her upper body. She is officially left-handed now since that arm and hand are pretty cooperative. No doctor wants to predict what her final outcome will be physically, but Wagner is optimistic.

So are her myriad friends: Her Chi Omega sisters decked out her apartment with hip new furniture and trimmings in her beloved zebra fashion. Her roommates learned the nuances of care for a quadriplegic (which they do several days a week when Wagner is at the apartment).

Wagner’s Arlington family (her parents Shirley and Roll, and younger sister Kara, 13) was treated to care-package dinners for months. Groups showed up to clean their house and do the yard work. And TCU teachers and administrators helped the accounting/finance major earn six credits last fall, despite being homebound.

This spring, friends have organized the first annual Keith-Ann Wagner Hope Relay, a benefit run on April 28 that will raise money to help defray family costs. Next year the family plans to donate the proceeds to spinal cord injury research.

Through it all, Wagner looks at the positive.

“I’m just so thankful I didn’t have any sort of brain injury,” she said. “That would have changed everything. Now I can still get married and have a family, have a job. Overall, nothing in the big picture has changed.”