September 16, 2008

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Author's visit proves that she can still teach

MOOR OR LESS

By BILL MOOR
Tribune columnist

http://southbendtribune.com/Assets/sigs/BILLMOOR.jpgBefore she had a family, Haley Scott DeMaria used to be a teacher in her hometown of Phoenix.

On Thursday, the former Notre Dame swimmer and survivor showed she could still captivate a classroom.

For more than an hour, Haley talked with the middle school students at Queen of Peace Catholic School in Mishawaka about family, faith and friends.

Her soft words resonated loud and clear.

Haley is in the South Bend area this weekend for three signing sessions of her new book, "What Though the Odds."

It is about her journey through life after the Notre Dame bus crash in 1992 that left two of her teammates dead and Haley temporarily paralyzed.

She has been given nice reviews. But the nicest may have come from her 4-year-old son, Edward.

"For four days after it came out, he carried the book around and kept saying, 'It's Mommy's book,'" Haley says with a smile.

Many of the Queen of Peace students were impressed with the book, too, after eighth-grade teacher Mary Korzan arranged for Haley to send her class some copies. Mary had read that Haley would be in the South Bend area for the Notre Dame-Michigan football weekend and invited her to speak at her school.

Haley gladly accepted.

Now a stay-at-home mom in Annapolis, Md., Haley told the students that she loved teaching.

And swimming, too.

"Being able to swim (well) was a gift that God had given me," says Haley, who at 34 still looks in good enough shape to win a Notre Dame monogram. "As a girl, it wasn't a gift I necessarily asked for."

But she made the most of it and quickly embraced it.

She knows that God gave her another gift later in her life.

"That gift is to share the hope and love and goodness that have come along with this," she adds.

She is referring to her long and often tenuous recovery from her injuries that initially appeared to include permanent paralysis.

Yet after several operations and hours upon hours of therapy, Haley was even able to return to the Notre Dame swim team and compete as a junior and senior.

"Not as fast as I had been," she admits.

She was bothered a little about that, but her parents weren't. They were just happy she could swim again ... and run ... and just walk.

Haley realized that she would have to look for a new normal in her life.

"I can't say that I'm glad with what happened to me," she admits. "But I am grateful for the lessons I learned from it.

"I like the person that I am striving to be."

Whether you read her book or meet her in person at one of her book signings this weekend, you will like her, too.

All the care and prayers she received from other people during her comeback have made her appreciate life and others so much more.

"Sixteen years later, my dad is still asked two or three times a week by people how his daughter is doing," Haley says.

She has immersed herself in that kind of compassion and caring. She has tried to give back by example, hoping others will see the struggles she endured and turn to those who may need similar support.

"When something tragic happens to you, there are two things you can do," she continues. "You can be a more fearful and cynical person, or you can surround yourself with the goodness that comes your way."

Haley Scott DeMaria chose the latter.

It shows.