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SALT LAKE CITY — A high school senior paralyzed three years ago from an accidental shooting fulfilled his final goal Thursday. He walked at his graduation.
Chance Sackett amazed everyone, collecting his diploma amidst cheering and a standing ovation. It was an emotional experience few could forget.
His parents, Bret and Michelle, were among hundreds of friends and family plus more than 700 students graduating from Copper Hills High School.
“I shed some tears. I always knew he could do it. You know he always sets goals, and every goal he’s set, he’s met,” Bret Sackett said.
Chance’s mother says the graduation was an emotional roller coaster ride. “The joy that you feel and your heart is pumping and it’s exciting — and scary,” she said.
In heavy therapy sessions, Chance had been practicing this walk for a long time. More than a year ago, a unique machine at the Neuroworx Rehabilitation Center had to do the walking for him. The concept called neuroplasticity assumes that like many others in his position, he could renew motion on his own through concentration and repetition.
But walking wasn’t all Chance wanted to do.
Early this year, he was carried out to a competition mat and despite his paralyzed legs, he wrestled in an exhibition match.
It was so emotional, his opponent from Alta High carried him back to his teammates on the sidelines, saying it was an experience he would never forget. But as incredible as this event played out, Chance’s end goal was yet to come.
In the early stages of rehabilitation in 2013, he said, “I don’t want to live the rest of my life in a wheelchair. I want to go on with my life and graduate with my class — walking up there.”
So it happened on this day in graduation ceremonies at EnergySolutions Arena.
I have never seen a stronger act of courage by a student. Chance will bow to no one. He will never quit when faced with a challenge.
–Todd Quarnberg, Copper Hills High School
“I’m predicting that Chance will have gained the respect of thousands of students and staff and guests who witnessed his courage today,” said principal Todd Quarnberg.
And courage it was. Chance used crutches to walk from his seat on the second row. But when he reached the stairs, he put them aside, walking up the stairs and then across the stage with no mechanical aids.
Like he said before in rehab at Neuroworx, “I have to think about it really hard. If I don’t think hard enough, my toes drag. I ruin my shoes.”
This day was more difficult because of the crowd and the stress Chance felt to keep his balance as his body moved forward.
“It was like every step I took I had to focus on what I had learned, what I had planned out in making this walk,” he said.
For Chance it was a long walk. He crossed the stage, picked up his diploma, then walked down a center flight of stairs to retrieve the crutches.
“I was stoked. It was awesome. I made it,” he later told us.
With high school behind him now, it’s on to Snow College and a career. His next step, he says, to eventually walk around all the time without crutches.
As his high school principal said during the ceremonies, “I have never seen a stronger act of courage by a student. Chance will bow to no one. He will never quit when faced with a challenge.”