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 display. 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 co-captain. "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 psychology. "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 it. 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 fantasy. "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 friends." 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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