Daisy Neely was just three days shy of her ninth birthday when she was hit by a car on a family bike ride in April 2013.
She survived the crash, but was paralyzed from the torso down and now uses a wheelchair.
“I was taken to the hospital and put in a medically induced coma. I had several extensive surgeries done and I wasn’t expected to live on my own,” she said. “After a while, I was sent to rehab and we started to work on exercises. I was taken off the ventilator and was able to come home within a year of my accident.”
With perseverance, determination and a strong faith, Neely was able to come out on the other side with authority.
“It was hard. It took a lot of support from my family, and I didn’t know why it happened,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to live on my own. I was struggling to find a purpose, but I was able to find a reason with my faith. God used my accident for a purpose and I am stronger with him.
“I have this strength and this joy within me because of Him.”
Now 15 and a rising sophomore at Pender High School in Burgaw, North Carolina, 25 minutes outside of Wilmington, Neely has taken an interest in both the shot put and discus.
“I use shot and disc as an outlet to improve myself both emotionally and physically,” she said.
Neely was introduced to track and field in middle school because the wife of her pastor was also the track coach at the high school.
“Once I started, I was really interested in it because getting better at something is my thing,” she said. “Once I focus on something, I have that perfectionist mentality. I’m investing a lot in it.”
In order to make it to state competition, she had to throw the shot a minimum of six feet in order to qualify. She was able to throw that and more by unleashing a 9-foot, 6-inch effort to qualify.
“I was a nervous wreck and was anxious. I had no clue what was going to happen,” she said. “I was just focusing on trying to be better. I had some expectations, but I tend to do better at practice when it’s just me and my coaches around.”
Fast forward a few weeks.
Now Neely is working with East Tennessee State faculty member Meg Stone.
Stone is well-versed in the teen’s chosen events.
Stone is a two-time Olympic thrower for Great Britain, and still owns the British discus throw record of 67.48 meters and Scottish record in the shot put of 18.99 meters. Both are also the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field records, standing since 1981 and 1983, respectively.
She finished fifth in the discus in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and was the 1982 Commonwealth Games champion in discus as well.
Stone is director of the Center of Excellence in Sports Science and Coach Excellence at ETSU. She has seen some of the finest athletes in the world compete, and she says getting the opportunity to work with Neely is very special.
“I was in contact by e-mail with Daisy about two or three months ago,” Stone said. “I saw where she was an adaptive athlete and I was all about it. Adaptive sports have become very popular over the past five to 10 years and we want to be inclusive of everybody in sports.”
“Getting this opportunity is really humbling,” Neely said. “Looking at where I am now from where I was is showing how strong God is and what he can do through a simple person in a bad situation.”
Stone says that when she was about Neely’s age, she had little interest in throwing and that she was into everything. When she got the desire to be good at the discus and shot put, she became fixated on being the best that she could be and improving, much like Neely.
“When I talked to Daisy, I saw that same interest and the same determination to be good at something,” Stone said. “In our coach education here at ETSU, we encourage everyone that wants to be a coach to work with an adaptive athlete. It gives you a challenge of ‘How are we going to make this person stronger?’ and you have to be creative as a coach as to what that person’s strengths are even without the use of certain limbs.”
Another person who has played a key role in Neely’s recovery is her father, David. David was on the bike trail with Daisy on the day of the accident and he says it has been an uphill battle ever since.
“I’m just kind of along for the ride with her on the trips to ETSU,” he said. “She’s done this all herself. We support her 110% and we push her to do what she wants to do. We don’t cut her any slack and we know that she’s going to have to work harder to get better.
“She not only inspires me, but so many other people. Her testimony is unique in its own way, but it’s strong. She’s why I’m here today.”
During Tuesday morning’s visit to ETSU, Daisy tried out the bench press for the first time. She started out with a 20-pound bar.
She moved up to the 30-pound bar.
No problem. She made lifting each bar look easy.
“I have a future and there’s a plan for me,” Neely said. “There’s a plan for me in sports and I plan to improve. Whether He plans for me to be in track for the rest of my life or just for this time period, I’ll take each day and try to be better than the previous day.”