COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There's no doubt Martha Childress is a fighter. But even her nerves creep in when she thinks about returning to Columbia and the University of South Carolina, the place where her life changed so much.
The freshman was paralyzed when she was struck by a stray bullet as she waited for a ride home at the Five Points fountain last October. Since then, she has been rehabilitating at a center in Atlanta so she could return to school.
"It was a very big adjustment, and it's still an adjustment for me every day," she said. "But I'm getting more and more comfortable with where I am."
She's with a personal trainer Two times a week. Another two, she's with her physical therapist trying new things like tennis.
"The wheels are more angled out so you can turn easier and the chair just turns on a dime and so I tried that with a tennis racket and it was really fun," Childress said.
And so was throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Tuesday night's USC baseball game.
"I'm staying active and that's good because I need to be strong to be able to support myself in this chair, so I really am," said Childress. "It's a lot easier that I thought it would be, coming home and being able to work out and to stay motivated"
Motivated doesn't begin to describe Martha's drive. Literally, one that has her lifting herself into vehicles. She's anxious to get behind the wheel of her car, still being fitted with hand controls.
"It's such a pretty car, it just sits in my driveway," she said. "I'm really excited to actually drive it."
She'll need that vehicle when she's back at USC this fall. She's been on campus and will work with President Harris Pastides on recommendations that could improve the campus for other students in wheelchairs.
"When you're walking you don't notice things very much and you don't really have to pay attention," she said. "But when you're in a wheelchair, you notice everything. Every little bump, every little crack in the sidewalk that you have to avoid."
Through her foundation and fundraisers like the upcoming Carolina Ball, she's hoping to extend a helping hand to others.
"I want to be able to reach out to people and talk with people and connect with them and find out their stories and find out what they go through," she said. "So we can, so that they can have someone to share that with and all the little things that we do that are similar."
Childress is honest. There have been challenging days and situations like the court case still to confront. She's still not certain how she'll handle it. She's just trying to move forward one day at a time.
"I want to be a better person and be the best version of myself that I can be, so I stay positive," she said.
The Carolina Ball is a charity event organized by USC students, designed to benefit a Columbia-area philanthropy. This year, proceeds are being donated to Childress and her foundation. It is March 21 at 701 Whaley Street.
Childress said organizers lowered the age limit to 18 so she and some of her friends can attend. Follow the Carolina Ball on Twitter by clicking here.