This weekend will not be Natasha Sackett’s first time walking around campus, but it will probably be her most meaningful. Nearly a year after her near-fatal accident on Kennedy Boulevard, Sackett is scheduled to return to UT to visit with friends she knows from classes and her days with the soccer team.
Sackett began playing soccer when she was four years old. It has always been a major part of her life. So when doctors told her that being a soccer player is what saved her life, Sackett immediately understood.
“Soccer players are a bit more determined,” she says, “They always have that will to win.” Last October’s accident caused the type of internal and brain damage that led doctors to predict that she would not survive her coma. It was then that the soccer player’s determination transformed that “will to win” into a “will to survive.”
In fact, it was the thought of soccer that propelled Natasha to walk again.
“One day, I was really angry that I couldn’t kick the ball,” she recalls. On that day, she became determined to walk. Before long, through intensive rehabilitation and sheer will power, she was not only walking again but able to dribble the soccer ball she had once mastered.
She was therefore crushed when doctors told her that she could never play competitive sports again due to her fragile bones and sensitive head caused by the accident.
“It was quite a blow because I was hoping to get back on the team at UT,” says Sackett. But far from resigning from the sport, she plans on keeping it as a central part of her life by striving to become “an amazing coach.”
Sackett’s mother has been her soccer coach throughout most of her adult life, and when it came time to assemble a team of doctors and supporters to help her through the tragedy, Sackett names her mother as the coach of that team without hesitation.
“A WANT FOR THE BALL!”
Another possible reason for Sackett’s remarkable recovery, and one also related to her experience on the soccer field, is her unique view of life. Having played all positions, she learned to be an enforcer on the field, and says that she developed a “want for the ball.” This elevated view of the field is immediately noticeable when talking with Sackett, and was remarked upon by her former professor at UT, Jim Lennon.
Lennon mentions her “strong, healthy determination” right away, and describes her elevated take on life as “cheerful, positive, a parent’s dream, she’s just a terrific person.”
Though she does think that both passengers in the car that hit her scooter should have seen her in front of UT on that tragic October Sunday, she also has sympathy for the grief that they must have felt for putting her in a coma. This notable attitude is perhaps to be expected from Sackett, who Lennon stresses had the capacity to be “liked by everybody,” which may be due to her ability to “play every position.”
Lennon also explains her resilient recovery in terms of the supportive team around Sackett: “it’s the combination of good people working hard for good things.”
This team includes Sackett’s girlfriend, who she credits with helping get her through all of this. Sackett says that the relationship began a few months before the accident, and that “She makes me work even harder on recovering.”
Looking to the future, she even has plans to ride a motorcycle, proving that she is not averse to taking some risks. Though she acknowledges that many think she “is the craziest person on earth,” she says that “it shows I still have a love of life.”
It is this unbridled love of life that led has Sackett wishing to resume her education at the University of Tampa. To do so, however, will require even more use of that soccer player’s determination. Her doctors told her that she can only attend part-time, but due to financial considerations she is not sure if she can return right away. Her doctors limit her work schedule to two hours a day, and Sackett lost her Dean’s scholarship and her housing on campus, both of which are only available to full-time students.
Confidentiality rules keep Director of Admissions Brent Brenner from discussing specifics about individual students, but he was allowed to discuss general policies.
“I can unequivocally say that we really do try to work with every student to make their situation work, especially in unique circumstances,” he said.
For Sackett, this is just another challenge. After all, the fortitude she derived from soccer had always gone unnoticed until she was forced to face life-threatening circumstances. Sackett never thought of herself as a person of strong determination and physical strength.
“I took it for granted. I didn’t really think of myself as strong-willed,” she reflects.
But now that she has successfully undergone the toughest part of recovery, Sackett is optimistic about her future at UT. She feels that she is continually improving physically and mentally, and when she was contacted on the phone this past week she seemed extremely lucid and incredibly responsive.
“I think that I personally could do full-time school,” she said with confidence, noting that doctors said her brain damage has distorted her self-assessment. She says she’ll follow doctor’s orders, returning as a part-time student as they recommended.
As a first step, she will be coming to U.T. this Saturday to visit with friends and well-wishers. Though it was too early for Natasha to read the many letters of support as soon as she awoke from her coma, she said that the letters eventually provided great comfort, and the immediate visits of many friends gave her the comfort she needed during those initial months. She’ll be around campus for a week and is looking forward to walking around campus and talking to friends for the first time since that tragic Sunday.
She also has advice for all students: “cherish every minute because life can be taken.” She also advises students to listen to their instincts and premonitions, as she vaguely recalls a bad feeling she had about getting on her scooter that Sunday in October.
Though this weekend will mark a triumphant return that testifies to the resilience of Natasha Sackett, the scars of the tragic accident are not completely gone. Sackett still has no solid memory of the two weeks prior to or the two months follow the accident.
But with an incident so tragic, Sackett doesn’t see the loss of its memory as a bad thing. “It’s possible that I will regain that memory as my condition improves,” she acknowledges, “but I hope I never do.”