Blackwell not letting accident spoil her love for the game

Published 10:48 pm Friday, March 21, 2014

Tara Blackwell coaches her Pike Forest High School Eagles despite being paralyzed from the waist down. (Photo/Joey Meredith)

Tara Blackwell coaches her Pike Forest High School Eagles despite being paralyzed from the waist down. (Photo/Joey Meredith)

Tara Blackwell’s softball career came full circle on Friday.

Blackwell, a former star for the Troy Trojan softball team, led the Pine Forest Eagles against the Charles Henderson Lady Trojans. While a player becoming a coach isn’t uncommon, Blackwell’s journey isn’t you average transition.

After appearing in 98 games for the Trojans, Blackwell’s career was brought to a sudden end due to a freak accident during her junior season. Blackwell suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed from the waist down.

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But Blackwell didn’t let her career-ending injury bring an end for her love of the game.

“I never thought my love for the game of softball could ever be more than when I was playing,” said Blackwell. “But I think it is stronger now than it was then. I know how quickly you can lose this game. It’s not just making plays and hitting the ball, I love the camaraderie of a team and being able to do things that some people will never be able to do. Being a coach is like having 13 daughters. I love them with everything I have.”

Blackwell is in her first season as head coach of the Lady Eagles, after serving as a volunteer assistant in 2013. Blackwell had never planned on being a coach, but said her mind changed after watching the 2005 season from the inside of the Troy dugout.

“After I got hurt, Coach Davis let me be part of the team, and that is where I really felt I could coach,” said Blackwell. “I saw things from the dugout that I never saw as a player. You are concentrated on your position in the field, but from the dugout you see everything as a whole and how it all works together. Coaching was in my heart.”

Although she is a native of Pensacola, and is proud to do what she loves in her hometown, Blackwell said Troy, and the citizens of the town, will always hold a special place in her heart.

“There was never a time where I didn’t feel like this wasn’t my second home,” said Blackwell. “

Troy coaches Melanie Davis and Sharon O’Mara remain close with Blackwell, and have put together a magazine-style book to accompany Blackwell’s nomination for the National Courage Award.

Pine Forest was allowed to tour the newly renovated Troy Softball complex on Friday afternoon, and sent the Trojans off to Western Kentucky with good luck signs.

While her players mingled with the college softballers, Blackwell couldn’t help but smile. She feels the trip to Troy will be beneficial to her team.

“They were able to see just how hard other players work on the field,” Blackwell said. “I think a light came on. Some of them said ‘Oh, so that’s what you mean by hustle.’ It was exciting for them. It is a completely different level of play, but I think they all aspire to be there one day. I just want to help them reach their goals in whatever way I can.”