Imagine you’re a senior in high school, about to embark on a new journey. Then you wake up in a hospital bed with no recollection of why you’re there.

This isn’t the start of a movie. This isn’t the first chapter of a book. This is a reality that Marti Rodda had to overcome.

The 18 year old had gone in and out of all-star and high school cheerleading since the second grade. When it came time to make decisions about college, she weighed several different options, basing her decision on academics, financials and the cheerleading program. She determined that the University of West Georgia was the perfect fit for her. So she set a goal. She would apply to UWG and try out for the all-girl cheerleading team. She was excited and she was motivated. Then her plans came to a screeching halt.

Rodda was finishing up the day of spring training for UCA Staff and had gone to dinner with a few friends when a semi-trailer, carrying steel, going between 60 and 70 miles an hour hit her. Though she does not remember the accident or much of her first two weeks in the hospital, she found out that she had damage to her frontal lobes, a broken jaw, a collapsed left lung, a few broken ribs, and a lacerated spleen that demanded emergency surgery.

After wrapping her mind around what happened to her, it was recovery time. Her injuries required extensive hospital stays and countless hours of physical therapy. Through all of this time, however, Rodda never let her goal slip her mind. “Having cheer constantly gave me something to work towards,” Rodda said.  “Especially a physical goal that ultimately helped me with so much more than just throwing a stunt or turning a flip.” Cheerleading played a major role her recovery process.

Because she had been to several open gyms, the coach at UWG gave her a shot and put her on the all-girl team with no tryout and no idea as to when Rodda would be able to participate. “When she went through her accident and we knew she wouldn’t be able to cheer right away we still wanted her to have a college experience,” said Nicole Nichols, the head coach at UWG. “We still wanted her to feel she had a family and a home away from home at UWG.” A home away from home is exactly what UWG gave her.

“My cheer family showed love and support and gave me a vision and never let me forget that there is more to my life because I survived this accident,” said Rodda. Cheerleading gave her more than a fun activity to say she was a part of. It gave her the support and positivity she needed to make it through a grueling recovery process. Her teammates and coaches never let her forget that she was still valuable and needed as a part of the program. In response, she never let them forget how valuable they were to her. “You never saw Marti not cheering for her team,” said Nichols.

All in all, Rodda’s recovery time equaled about a year and a half. There were times when she felt defeated and wanted to give up, but she set goals for herself. “As soon as I began to have goals, that’s when I took control of my recovery and turned the worst time of my life to the most valuable time of my life,” said Rodda. Her goals gave her small victories that in the end, resulted in the ultimate victory.

After sitting out the majority of her freshman year, Rodda set another goal. She decided that she would make mat and compete as a sophomore. That’s exactly what she did. Followed by several more goals throughout the season, she set one last goal. The UWG all-girl team would get a hit in finals at UCA College Nationals. Just like her other small goals, Rodda and her teammates reached that goal and became 2017 National Champions.

Watching Rodda’s journey and seeing her reach her goals was inspiring to Nichols and other athletes. “It is either an obstacle or an opportunity and Marti saw all of this as an opportunity to be strong, learn and achieve,” said Nichols.

Though Rodda’s situation was less than ideal it was important for her to keep herself on track and focused. “Even with all the support and love in the world you must love and support yourself,” said Rodda. “You must know what you want for yourself because that’s the only way you’ll get anything done.”

Today, the National Champion is healthy and back to herself. “I could see a light come back to Marti when she was back around the team and seeing that it was possible for her to be back in it,” said Nichols. “In my opinion, Marti is back to Marti.”