Martha Childress: Back in the game (+video and photos)

ccope@thestate.comMarch 11, 2014 

— Martha Childress has a good arm.

The 18-year-old, paralyzed by what police have said was a stray bullet in Five Points last fall, threw the ceremonial first pitch Tuesday evening at the University of South Carolina baseball.

And her arms do much more than throw a ball.

“Her arms now are her legs,” said her mother, Pam Childress Johnson.

The powerful strength in her arms reflects her persistence as a person.

“I try to have a positive outlook on each day and be grateful for each day because my life could have been taken away so easily,” Childress said during an interview with The State newspaper before the 7 p.m. game.

But it’s not always easy for her.

“Everyone has bad days,” she said.

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Childress is living in Simpsonville now but is planning on coming back to Columbia to attend classes in the fall. She has not been back to Five Points since the incident, and she said she will not be back any time soon.

She may be able to face it in the future, but not now, she said.

“I am not ready for that,” she said.

However, she is ready to drive her new, red Mini Cooper Paceman, with two white racing stripes. She has purchased the car, but it needs to have hand controls installed so she can drive it, she said.

“It’s very flashy – just like I like it,” she said. “It’s very me.”

Childress also has been working to break a habit. She gave up cursing for Lent, and she is trying her best to stick to the commitment.

“We all have our vices – cussing would be mine,” she said.

She said her family has been staying on her about it.

Her family and some friends also attended the baseball game.

Her 16-year-old brother, Workman Childress, helped her practice throwing the first pitch.

He has been there for her throughout the healing process. They watch TV and movies together and bake sweets.

“It’s been nice to see how she’s persevered through this and grown as a person,” he said.

The two are typical brother and sister, they each said.

“We fight, but we’re best friends,” he said.

Childress’ former roommate, Kendall Bond, said it was hard losing her last fall. But they plan to live together again in an off-campus apartment when Childress returns next school year.

“I’m ready to have her back,” Bond said. “I’ve missed her.”

Childress is ready to be back. She said she prefers to be in a classroom, interacting with a teacher, as opposed to the online classes she has been taking.

“I’m very proud of her,” Bond said. “I couldn’t be as strong as her.”

Childress said staying bitter wouldn’t help.

“I just have to learn at some point just to let go and forgive for what happened and move on with my life,” she said.

Michael Juan Smith, the high school dropout and twice-convicted burglar who is charged in Childress’ shooting, pleaded guilty last month to a federal charge of being a felon in possession of a weapon. His circuit court trial on the charge of attempted murder in the shooting has been delayed until at least June.

USC baseball coach Chad Holbrook introduced Childress to the crowd at the ballpark and gave her a jersey and a check to help with expenses.

Childress’ mom said it was a thrill to watch her daughter throw the baseball. She said she was glad to see her back out in public.

But, “from the beginning of this, we opted not to hide,” her mom said.

Childress certainly will not be able to hide when she returns to campus – thousands of students will know her name and her story. But that doesn’t deter her. She looks at it as an opportunity to make more friends.

And her bubbly personality has helped her through, she said.

Once before, Johnson had to prepare herself for sending Martha off to college and, now, she’s having to do it all over again.

“Am I going to be a little more hesitant? Absolutely,” her mother said.

But she said Childress will be independent again, and her family is in the process of preparing her for that.

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