Bailey Wind ... Finding the Tenacity to Rebuild a Broken World

Thursday, August 10, 2017

If you're a resident of the 518, the name Bailey Wind is probably familiar to you.  If it's not, the details of her story will quickly remind you who she is and when you remember, I think the first words that enter your mind when you think of her will be....tragedy, loss, sorrow....quickly followed by inspirational, survivor and amazing. I've been following Bailey on social media since the beginning of her popularity - a popularity resulting from what was perhaps the worst tragedy the 518 has experienced. I cried watching the memorial at Shen and cried as I read her book, 'Save Me A Spot in Heaven'.  I first reached out to Bailey when I finished reading her book to offer words of comfort, encouragement and pride.  Last April I reached out again, this time pitching an idea for the blog. Bailey responded that the idea sounded nice but life got in the way and that idea never got off the ground.  When I reached out again last week, Bailey quickly agreed to meet with me.  My plan was to reintroduce Bailey.  I wanted the world to see the recovered Bailey, the smiling, radiant Bailey we see on social media, the college graduate, the woman ready to take on the world, not just the accident victim.  I wanted to give Bailey a new image but Bailey, in her young but impressive wisdom, changed my vision and the story I'm about to tell may not be exactly the story I planned, but is absolutely the story you need to hear.



It's been four and a half years since the crash, the crash that would change the world for Bailey and everyone who knew her and thousands who didn't.  On the night of Saturday, December 1, 2012, Bailey, her boyfriend Chris Stewart, Bailey's best friend Deanna Rivers and her boyfriend Matt Hardy were driving home from seeing a Siena/UAlbany basketball game when a 22 year old driver who was drunk, high and texting slammed into Chris' car sending it flipping off the road before hitting several trees.  Chris and Deanna didn't survive the crash; Bailey and Matt were badly injured.  All four students were star athletes, Chris, Deanna and Matt from Shenendehowa and Bailey from Shaker.  The accident and the loss of two very popular and admired athletes rocked the world of these rival schools.  But nothing would compare to the changes and challenges that would face the survivors and their families.

Bailey had a broken neck, a broken jaw, internal injuries, a brain bleed and several missing and broken teeth.    Bailey also just recently found out that her arm was caught between Chris and the dashboard for the two hours before she was extracted from under the dashboard.  She was minutes from having her arm amputated when they were finally able to release her. Months of recovery followed that painful night. She has 2 titanium plates in her jaw and one in her neck, has endured multiple surgeries on her mouth. Bailey finished her senior year at home with tutors and was able to attend her high school graduation.  Ironically, just a week before the accident, Bailey had signed her letter of intent to accept a diving scholarship from the University of Tennessee.  Bailey had been diving since she was nine and was at the height of her diving career looking forward to being a member of the Division I diving team at college. Despite all she'd been through, not sure she could do it, Bailey went to college as she planned in the fall.  She admits it wasn't always easy and there were times she wanted to just come home, but she didn't and just this May, Bailey graduated from the University of Tennessee.  As for her diving.....Bailey tried her whole freshman year to retrain her body to dive despite excruciating pain but in the end, her doctors felt it unsafe for her to continue. Bailey was relieved when the doctors made their recommendation,  but sad to give up the sport she was so fond of, the sport that she'd excelled at for so long.

When Bailey talks about college, her eyes light up and her voice brightens especially when she talks about her diving coach, Dave Parrington, who she refers to as her 'dad at college'.  When Bailey had to stop diving, Coach Parrington let Bailey keep her scholarship and kept her as a member of the diving team.  She says she could talk to Coach about anything, not just diving.  She says she knocked on his door many times over the years and after she'd dry her tears, Coach would have words of wisdom and encouragement and always knew the right thing to say.  She said she wouldn't have gotten through college without him and Bailey's mom, Dawn, agreed it was so much easier leaving Bailey in Tennessee knowing Coach Dave was there for Bailey.  She knew she was in good hands.
Bailey and Dawn Wind

Bailey says she was quiet and reserved in high school.  Because of that she was bullied, something that hasn't completely stopped, even today.  There are some who feel Bailey's presence on social media, her public speaking engagements (Bailey has spoken at over 35 schools), and writing her book were all calls for attention.  Fortunately those people are in the minority.  Bailey has thousands of people who love and support her, but it's still difficult when the bullies are so hurtful.   When I asked Bailey what people have wrong about her, her answer surprised me.   When we see Bailey on social media, she's always wearing a broad smile and standing proud and tall.  One would think she's got the world by the horns and life is exactly as it should be, surrounded by friends and living like any other college student would be.  Well, that's not exactly the truth.  Bailey admits she tries her best to put on a happy face because, 'who wants to be around sad mopey people?'  She thinks people are sick of hearing her story and want to move on.  She wants to move on too but the reality is, it's hard.  Bailey suffers from PTSD, anxiety, depression and chronic pain.  She's not really as happy as her pictures portray.  Some days she's very angry and depressed and struggles to function normally. She also suffers from survivor guilt.  But....after four years Bailey has finally found some small bit of peace in her survival.  She realizes God has a plan and there is a reason why she survived the accident that night.  She is anxious to see what that plan is.


When I asked Bailey about her speaking engagements and whether or not she's sick of talking about the accident, Bailey says it's complicated.  She is so grateful for the support she's received over the years, from her family, her friends and from people from all over the world who send her encouragement and support on social media.  She feels she needs to give back and she needs to try to help teens to realize that life can change in a second. It's all about choices.  You need to make the right choices.  But....there are days when she doesn't want to just be known as Bailey, the accident victim.   As much as she loves and appreciates all the people who recognize her and know her on social media, she also likes being anonymous in Tennessee where she can meet people and not have her past be so well known. I guess you could say she'd like to be a normal young woman who can write her own story with people.

The ironic part of all this is that what I hoped to write in this post was a story about a survivor - a story about a young woman who is recovered and ready to just be Bailey, not Bailey, a victim.  What I learned is that in many ways Bailey will always be a victim.  She will always be the 17 year old who lost the first love of her life and best friend in one brief second, the girl who lost her dream of diving in college.  She'll always have scars and remnants of the injuries of that night and to a degree she may always feel a little guilt that she survived.  Those are not scars that leave, they only fade in the distance....in time that is not within her control.  I should have realized all that, but I guess in my admiration, Bailey's bright smile on social media was able to fool me into thinking that Bailey was all better, that she and we, her followers, might be able to put the past aside and focus on a bright and shiny future.  Maybe those haters out there who continue to bully her are fooled too, fooled into believing that Bailey's life is as big and bright as her smile.  Now I ...and you....know that isn't nearly the truth.   Bailey is not ashamed to admit her struggle.  In fact one of the first things she told us about was her struggle with PTSD and depression.

 When I contacted her, I told her that my blog is small and her story may not get seen by thousands,  still she was so grateful and surprised that I wanted to write about her, shocked that I'd find her intriguing.  Well, the fact of the matter is......I had to fit her somewhere in my blog Categories.  I don't have a category for Heroes or Inspirational People, or a category for Strong Woman or Brave Survivors, but I do have one on Intriguing People and after my time with Bailey, I have to admit she is intriguing.  She's also sweet and humble, warm and kind and strikingly beautiful.  We met at the Pruyn House so I could take some photos of her.  As soon as she stepped out of the car, she gave us both a huge hug!  She was genuinely honored to talk to us - perfectly normal, not famous people, not Liz Bishop who did a story on her in June, not a news media of any sort, just two retired folks hoping to spend some time getting to know a local hero.  Yet....to Bailey, we were somebody special.   Here we were excited to meet a local celebrity of sorts yet Bailey had no concept of how special she is.  That's the kind of girl she is, somebody still shocked and humbled by the attention and compliments she receives and feeling so unworthy of all of it..

It's been a tough four years and a half for Bailey, physically and emotionally.  She admits she's irritable and angry at times, her PTSD so difficult.  Despite years of counseling and medication, it's still a daily struggle.  All of this has not just affected Bailey, but her parents and sister too.  Bailey's mom, Dawn, accompanied Bailey and talked openly to us about the accident and struggles since. Throughout our 90 minute meeting, there were several topics that brought tears to both Bailey and Dawn's eyes.  It's obvious the emotions of the accident, the loss and the struggles are just below the surface, something that I think people who haven't experienced anything like this might not realize.  Dawn says they carry Chris and Deanna in their hearts and everything they do, they do with them, for them.  Bailey talked about her college graduation.  She was irritable before and broken down in tears afterwards.  When her mom asked what was wrong, Bailey tearfully explained that Chris and Deanna didn't get to graduate.  Even in her proudest moment, Chris and Deanna were with her.  So many times she thinks of them, realizing she is getting to experience something they are not.  When I asked her if she felt she could meet a man one day and not compare him to Chris, she quickly said she could.  She said she no longer feels guilty about that, that she feels Chris would want her to be happy and find love.  She even feels Chris will find that right guy for her when the time is right. Anyone who was lucky enough to experience a serious first love knows how powerful that statement is and what a great sign of recovery too.
Bailey & Dawn (Bailey's beautiful Mom)

As a mom I had to ask Dawn how she lets Bailey out of her sight and how she let her go so far away to college after the accident.  Her answer showed me where Bailey got her wisdom and strength from.  This is what she said, 'I couldn't protect her when she was 10 minutes from home, so how could I protect her anywhere else?'  She went on to say she was grateful that Bailey was able to go away to college. She's grateful for every milestone her daughter gets to experience and that gratitude means more than the time wasted worrying.  Like Bailey, Dawn says she carries Chris and Deanna in her heart and every milestone and special event, they are with her.  But she also knows that whatever will happen, will happen.  There's nothing she can do to protect her or change fate, so why drive herself crazy?  I envied her ability to be so wise after what she's gone through.  I couldn't help but admit that seeing them on social media makes it look like they are such a loving and close family.  Both Bailey and Dawn agreed, saying they were close even before the accident but Dawn was quick to point out that they are NOT a Hallmark card.  They are normal people and the time after the accident was difficult and stressful and challenging.  I can't begin to imagine!

Although Bailey didn't dive beyond her freshman year in college, she did plenty to make herself and her family proud.  She received several awards including the Wilma Rudolf Student Achievement Award and the Giant Steps Courageous Female Athlete Award, two of the highest national awards given to student athletes.  Bailey learned a lot at the University of Tennessee, but mostly she found the woman she's longing to embrace that not many know.  She loves the anonymity there and the weather and will be moving to Tennessee this week to join her sister, Nikki, who's now attending Bailey's alma mater to study radiology.  Just a year and a half apart, Bailey and Nikki have always been close.  It's no surprise they are choosing to be together at this phase of their lives.  Bailey is anxious to leave behind the reminders and the triggers she faces here in the 518.  She is ready to start her life in Tennessee and begin her new job with Exceed Marketing.  I'm not sure what Bailey Wind will end up doing career-wise, but I am sure of this.  Bailey Wind has something special to offer the world.  She may not have figured out yet just what that is, but when she does, watch out.  Bailey is no quitter.  She's survived and overcome things that most of us never even imagine....physically and emotionally.  She has parents, a sister and extended family who love and support her, thousands of virtual strangers who admire and respect her.  And she has something that is impossible to create or fake - humility, genuine gratitude and the desire to make a difference - no matter how crazy hard it is.  While not every student who has listened to her story heeds her advice, I can say with certainty after having met Bailey, I know that there are many who are changed by meeting her and hearing her story.  Bailey, without preaching, reminds you there are still good people in the world, that it's important to think before making choices that can affect everything in your life in a blink of an eye, and that everyday is reason to be grateful.  Bailey Wind is an inspiration and a hero.
To Bailey - No matter how unworthy you feel you are, as you yourself said, God left you on this earth for a reason.  You have already made a difference in the world and you will continue to do so.  He knows it and so do I. 
 Bailey may not be the new and improved shining star I expected to feature here quite yet, but she's got what it takes to complete the journey.  As always, this blog has given me so much.  It's brought the most wonderful people into my life. Meeting Bailey and Dawn Wind is the perfect example of that.  As often happens with this blog, I received so much more than I hoped to give.  I am beyond blessed.
If you want to hear more about Bailey's story, you can read her book, Save Me a Spot in Heaven, which can be purchased from her website: http://www.spotinheaven.com/home/    You can also follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Save-Me-A-Spot-in-Heaven

If you know someone who has gone through something tragic or painful, remember, everyone has their own timeline for processing grief.  It may be months or it may be years.  Just because they are smiling on the outside doesn't necessarily mean they are healed completely or not in pain.  Be patient and love them regardless of where they are on their journey.

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5 Comments »

5 Responses to “Bailey Wind ... Finding the Tenacity to Rebuild a Broken World”

  1. Good for you, Bailey. Keep doing your thing! While others may be putting you down, keep busy. You ARE making the world a better place- it just can't be quantified. You just may have saved hundreds of other lives by now through your talks and book. I hope my children can grow to be so courageous!

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    1. Isn't that the truth?!? It takes a strong woman and a big support system behind you and Bailey is all of that. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

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  2. So much heartache for one so young. What a resilient and brave woman, she is, and such a beautiful person, inside and out. I had forgotten her story, Gail. Thank you for reminding us, and so eloquently. Wishing Bailey a bright and meaningful future filled with God's love and blessings.

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  3. I live in Knoxville and this is the first I've heard of Bailey. Wow!!!! She sounds like an amazing young woman. My prayer for her is that she will be blessed in all she choose to do in life.

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    1. My prayer too Lynette because she is so deserving and such a fighter! I have no doubt she'll do great things.

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