Johns Hopkins Gazette: May 22, 1995

On The Road To Commencement

Ballard Just 'Grateful To Be Alive'

By Leslie Rice / 
Office of News and Information

     On April Fool's Day, the bus carrying the Hopkins men's
lacrosse team made its way home following a winning game at the
University of North Carolina. On an interstate just south of
Richmond, it passed a rescue scene in action. It was a grisly

     The accident stopped conversation in its tracks--glass and
twisted metal on the highway, a dead deer, a broken guardrail. 

     The team passed the flashing lights in silence. A swarm of
rescue workers focused solely on freeing three victims from the
tangled wreckage in the ravine below.

     The players wouldn't learn until the next day that the
crushed van held cargo precious to them.

     This Thursday, Robin Ballard, manager of the lacrosse team,
will be awarded a bachelor of arts degree in psychology.
Commencement is a festive day for any Hopkins graduate, but for
Ballard, her family and her friends, it's a triumph.

     "Not a day has gone by since the accident when I haven't
thought about how grateful I am to be alive," said Ballard, who
is recuperating in her parents' house. "That's why this
commencement is special. Although frankly, I'm looking forward to
the finals more."

     By some miracle, Ballard; Rebecca Horwitz, a junior and a
co-manager of the team; and David Stein, a sophomore and team
assistant trainer, survived a highway accident that by all
natural laws should have killed them. 

     After hitting a deer that jumped in the center of the
three-lane highway, their van spun out of control, tore through a
guardrail, wrapped around a tree and fell to the ground, upside
down, 15 feet below.

     Both Ballard and Horwitz suffered head injuries and fought
for their lives for the first several days following the
accident. Stein, who had been sleeping in the back seat,
dislocated his wrist and suffered cuts and bruises but was
released from the hospital late that night. All are expected to
recover completely. 

     That Monday at Hopkins, hundreds of people, including the
entire lacrosse team, packed a prayer service held for the two
girls. For the next few weeks, they would smother the girls with
letters, audio tapes and flowers.

     Robin has been with the team for four years and has become a
close friend to many of the players, said Chris Steer, team

     "She's just always been there for us," said Steer. "She's
there if we need to talk and will go completely out of her way
for any of us. Both Robin and Becca are special to us."

     In between studies and endless tasks for the lacrosse team,
Ballard took voice lessons at Peabody and volunteered at Sheppard
Pratt Hospital. She also finished her graduation requirements a
semester early. Although she still worked for the lacrosse team,
in December she moved back home in Bel Air and worked as a law
clerk for a Towson attorney. A few weeks ago, she was accepted in
a Widener University combined graduate program in law and

     "She'll do great," Coach Tony Seaman said. "If you're around
her for two seconds you realize how strong she is."

     Ballard remembers little of the events that led to the
accident except saying goodbye to team co-captain Terry Riorden
just before leaving.

     "Be careful," called out Riorden as Ballard, Horwitz and
Stein headed toward the van.   

     She can't remember anything else.

     Stein was sleeping in the back seat when the girls screamed.

     "The van swayed back and forth and all the equipment flew on
top of me and then the van fell," he said. He's memorized the
ordeal sequence by precise sequence. It's been played back over
and over in his nightmares or when he forgets not to think about

     During the next few days, the Ballards clung to the
Horwitzes as they kept vigils over their daughters. Every time
one would show improvement, they would celebrate.

     Ballard's parents held their breath as they waited to see if
the brain damage Robin suffered in the accident would be
permanent. And in the early days the injury seemed to tap into
her dreams, and Ballard had difficulty separating reality from

     "I almost got into a fight with my sister because she
wouldn't believe me when I said I was doing legal work for O.J.
Simpson's defense," Ballard said. "I came up with some crazy
stuff. I told one nurse I was married to John Quincy Adams. It
was weird. Probably a little disturbing for my family, though."

     What got her through the fogginess in her head and
excruciating headaches that would keep her awake moaning and
crying, was support from her family and friends.

     "My hospital room looked like a flower shop," Ballard said
proudly. "I got the sweetest letters from the guys on the team.
And I would forget everything from one day to the next, so every
day I'd read them for what I thought was the first time. I'd get
all teary and show them to my family for the fourth or fifth
time. They were awfully patient."

     Since the injury was to Ballard's frontal lobe, her doctors
warned that there may be some loss to her personality. And in the
weeks following the accident, Ballard was subdued and docile. Her
family prayed she would regain the spunk that made her so
special. Gradually, her spirit returned. 

     Because the van window next to Ballard exploded on impact,
shards of glass embedded into the left side of her face. But the
scars are small and in a few years won't be noticeable at all.
She doesn't mind them. She's not the vain type. Besides, they are
her battle wounds.

     "I never got depressed about [the accident]," Ballard
explained. "I never got angry that I had to go through it. It's a
miracle all three of us not just survived, but will be OK. I'm so
thankful to be here and to have such a wonderful family and

     Three weeks ago, Ballard attended the Hopkins/Navy game. 

     Afterward, she went to the sidelines to see her friends, and
she was treated like a celebrity. She touched Riordan on the arm,
and he turned to face her. He gave a great look of surprise, and
his face broke into a silly, happy grin.

     They talked for a little, and he told her how worried the
team was about her.

     "But I told them you'd be OK, because you're such a strong
girl," he said and they hugged.

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