BOGALUSA, La. (AP) - Before a car wreck two years ago, sports were Katie Breland's life. Now she's looking forward to a full summer of training, wheelchair races and wedding plans, and she is thankful for the community support that has helped her get so far.
In October 2011, during a drive toward Franklinton, she missed a stop sign that was turned sideways. A truck hit her car broadside. She flew through the windshield and across the road, landing in a ditch. Her car landed on top of her. It took an emergency crew 33 minutes to get her out.
Severe burns covered three-quarters of her body. Two vertebrae were shattered, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
She was in the hospital for 100 days and had many surgeries, including skin grafts and a surgery where rods and plates were placed to hold her back together.
At first, Breland couldn't hold her head up. She has since competed in her first triathlon. She can drive and walk on her braces and is much more independent.
She recently returned from her third trip to a training center in Michigan, where she has been training and learning different workouts.
She made good progress and got movement in her foot and thigh, she said.
When she started her physical therapy she had braces from her chest down. The ones she wears now start just above the knee. And she's been able to walk about 200 yards in those braces, just holding someone's hands.
A reality show about the Michigan center, called Barwis Methods is scheduled on the Discovery Chanel in May. Breland said she's among those featured in the program, called "American Muscle."
Breland got engaged in December to Odie Hughes. She is currently planning their September wedding, and wants to walk down the aisle. Practicing for that will be a major focus this summer.
Before her accident, Breland played basketball and had run in hundreds of races, so she knew people were watching to see how she would cope and move forward after the accident. She knew she had to prove to herself and others that she could still do things she used to do.
That's how she got started with triathlon training, and she has participated in several races, with another coming in July. She races using a specially designed bicycle and hopes to beat her time from last year.
Breland graduated from Ben's Ford in 2005 then completed the physical therapy program at Pearl River Community College. For about six years she has worked as a therapist at Therapeutic Concepts in Bogalusa, and she recently opened her own gym, Katie's Shed.
A personal trainer, Breland holds classes there several evenings each week and also works individually with clients. When she's not helping someone else train, she's working out herself.
Breland said she is thankful for the support she's received from the Bogalusa community, with countless people following her progress and participating in fundraisers and events for her.
She said she knew from the time of her wreck that she wanted to make the best she possibly could of the situation. About eight months ago she decided she was ready to share her story, and since that time she has had several speaking engagements each month.
Though there is a constant battle of knowing there are things she is not yet able to do, Breland said the wreck has changed her life in good ways, too.
"It's humbled me. It's made me see things through completely different eyes," she said.
She said she saw how quickly things can change and she doesn't take much for granted anymore, and she values time with friends and family. She said it has changed her as a therapist too, because she can understand from a different perspective what her clients are going through.
When working with her clients during training, she said she tries to motivate them and build them up.
"They do the same for me in return," she said. "They've helped me way more than I could ever help them."
Information from: Bogalusa - Daily News , http://www.gobogalusa.com