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SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Josh Steadings never saw the truck coming that ended up striking his truck.
Steadings, a history teacher at Mabry Middle School, was paralyzed from the chest down in the crash on Feb. 4. His two children, 3-year-old Camryn and 5-year-old Ainsley, were in the truck at the time. The two children escaped the collision with only minor injuries.
"I just never saw it coming," Steadings said. "I thank God neither of my kids were hurt. They had what they called, 'boo-boos.'"
Steadings had just picked up his son and daughter when another driver ran a stop sign. The force of the crash flipped Steadings' truck multiple times. He was knocked unconscious and his C5 and C6 vertebrae were broken.
He spent three months at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. The nonprofit hospital cares for and rehabilitates patients with brain and spinal cord injuries. During his time in Atlanta, Steadings, a die-hard University of South Carolina Gamecocks fan, was visited by the team's former quarterback, Boiling Springs High School alumni Dylan Thompson.
Steadings, who was wearing Gamecock gear at the time, couldn't believe his eyes when the football star stepped into his room.
"In walks Dylan with his dad, and I'm like, 'That's Dylan Thompson. That's Dylan Thompson,'" he said.
After Thompson's visit, the two exchanged text messages almost daily. Thompson, who prayed with Steadings, would send encouraging messages and Bible verses to drive Steadings' recovery.
"He was just great," Steadings said.
On May 28, Steadings returned to his home in Chesnee after three months in Atlanta. His two rambunctious children, two dogs and wife, Autumn, were happy to welcome him home.
"They're just happy that he's home now and can be with them," Autumn said.
The next day - the last day of the 2014-15 school year - he made a surprise appearance at Mabry Middle's awards day ceremony. He was greeted by a standing ovation in the school's auditorium.
Three months away from his students was too long, he said.
"I wanted to see the students one more time before they left for Chapman (High School)," he said. "There were some tears shed. It was a very special moment."
During the ceremony, Steadings was named Mabry Middle Teacher of the Year. He said he was suspicious because the school went to great lengths to make sure his family was in attendance.
"It's awesome for students to tell you how much they enjoy you as a teacher, but for your peers to vote for you and validate you like that, that's so special," he said
Along with professional praise, Steadings and his family have received thousands of well-wishes, hundreds of donations and the thoughts and prayers of an entire community.
On June 16, the Steadings family was given another piece of support from the community - $2,500 raised at the District 1 fun run event in May. The money was presented by Landrum High School Student Body President Brandon Hernandez and Chapman High School Student Body President Drew Copeland.
"I had him as a teacher, and knew him as a mentor and a role model," Copeland said. "He was one of those teachers that you would have fun in his class and you learned more than dates and names. It was an atmosphere that wasn't like anything else.
Hernandez said the student bodies at Chapman and Landrum came together to help Steadings.
"When there are challenges, our community comes together as one," he said.
A GoFundMe page dedicated to paying for Steadings' medical bills has raised more than $10,000. District 1 students have taken to social media and popularized the hashtag, #SteadingsStrong.
Stickers and shirts with the hashtag and a Superman logo are all available on Steadings' website. The proceeds from those items also help cover the family's medical costs.
"It's wonderful to see how the community has supported Josh and us like they have," Autumn said.
Steadings thanked his wife for standing by his side and taking care of him in his time of need. He said his injury has brought the couple closer together, and now more than ever, he appreciates her for all that she does.
"My wife has been so fantastic," he said. "She's an amazing woman."
Autumn stood by Steadings during another bout of physical therapy on Tuesday afternoon. Now that he is home, Steadings goes to a physical therapist in Greenville. He said each therapy session serves as motivation.
"I don't look at myself as disabled," he said. "I look at myself as challenged. I'm not going to let this consume me. It's a marathon, not a sprint."
The therapist was optimistic about Steadings' potential, he said. There's a slim chance he'll regain the ability to walk, but he has increasingly gained movement in his right hand. He said if he can regain the use of his hand, it will represent overcoming a huge obstacle.
"I want so bad to hold her hand again, and to pick up my children and squeeze them close" Steadings said, looking toward Autumn. "But, where I am now versus where I was Feb. 5, I'm leaps and bounds ahead of where I could be. Everything I get back is a blessing."
In August, Steadings will return to his classroom at Mabry Middle. He said regaining that bit of normalcy will be a major accomplishment, but he realizes teaching could be different than before.
"That first day, we'll have to address the big, pink elephant in the room," he said. "I'll have to tell them, today is it. Ask your questions because tomorrow, we'll be studying history."
In high school, Steadings said he took a personality test to see what career path he was best suited for. He was shocked when the test recommended he go into teaching. But, over time, Steadings pursued a career in education.
"I can't imagine being anything other than a teacher," he said. "As a teacher, you think, am I making a difference. You think, am I fighting a war I'm never going to win. I've seen the difference, and I feel like I'm giving back to these students."
The community support Steadings and his family have received has been overwhelming, he said. He said that starting in August, he will be driven to find another level of dedication to students and their families.
He said it's the only way he could think of to repay everyone who has given him so much during the past four months.
"I've gotten to see how much the community loves and appreciates me. This is home," he said. "If wealth was measured by friends, I'm the wealthiest man in South Carolina."
Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/
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