In the five years since Kelli Bright was paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident, she hasn't slowed down.
She graduated from high school, is going to college and is engaged. She's a public speaker for driving safety and a local advocate for the Paramobile -- a wheelchair that helps her stand, allowing her to work out and play sports.
Now, Bright and her friends are working to raise money so she can buy a Paramobile of her own. A fundraiser Friday at Dukes Barbecue raised $17,830.
On June 16, 2009, shortly after finishing her sophomore year at Battery Creek High School, where she was a cheerleader and softball player, Bright was thrown from an SUV that ran off the road near Columbia, clipped a culvert and rolled three times. The mangled Ford Explorer is the cover photo on the "Stand Up for Kelli Bright" Facebook page that is tracking the Paramobile fundraising progress.
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Bright returned to Beaufort that summer after the wreck to a remodeled home in Shell Point, after friends and family helped raise $13,000 to make it more accessible. The first floor of her family's three-story home was renovated for her, not just with accessibility needs like ramps and widened doorways, but a game room and a kitchen, too.
In 2011, Bright graduated from Battery Creek after missing only three weeks of school because of her accident.
Now a student at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's campus in Bluffton, Bright is working toward a communications degree. In February, she became engaged to boyfriend Justin Burke.
"I pretty much have an awesome life," she said. "If anything, the accident was a kick in the butt to do more. I just have a normal life. I tell people, 'My legs don't work, not my head.'"
Bright was contacted in January by her boss at the Parris Island pool with an offer to try out a Paramobile. She works at the pool in the summer.
Marine Corps headquarters had purchased several of the wheelchairs for disabled veterans to use, and had assigned one to the Beaufort County bases, said Marine Corps health official Kathy Williams.
"He asked me to be the guinea pig for the machine," Bright said of her boss. "I'm always up to help."
The wheelchair was created by Anthony Netto, who was paralyzed in a car accident and designed the wheelchair so he could stand and continue to play golf. Netto came to Beaufort to train Williams and other staff on how to use the chair. Once they learned, they invited Bright to try it out.
"It was quite an emotional day," Williams said. "It was really the first time she had stood since her accident."
Since that January day, Bright has played golf at the Parris Island course, worked out at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort's gym, and played basketball and Frisbee. In addition to allowing her to participate many activities, the Paramobile also provides health benefits, such as maintaining bone density, better digestion, increased circulation and easier breathing, Williams said.
Bright also speaks about the wheelchair and its uses for Marine Corps Community Services, in an effort to connect with local disabled veterans who could benefit from it, Williams said.
Bright can go to the Marine bases and use the wheelchair as she pleases, but its price tag of $30,000 makes it impossible for her to purchase one.
Then she ran into Katie Godowns at a Beaufort restaurant.
Godowns had gone to high school with Bright's sister and seen pictures on Facebook of Bright using the Paramobile. Godowns asked Bright about possibly raising money to purchase one of her own. Bright was unsure.
"I felt bad for asking for more," she said. "This town has already done so much for me. I'm amazed by it."
Godowns convinced her to try fundraising again, helping her organize Friday's event at Dukes Barbecue. The restaurant gave Bright's fund 10 percent of its proceeds Friday and was the location of a drawing for which over 1,000 tickets were sold, Bright said.
"Kelli is an amazing girl," Williams said. "If only everyone had her positive attitude."
Follow reporter Matt McNab at twitter.com/IPBG_Matt.