Doris Quigley, East Hampton High School

Doris Quigley of East Hampton High School took

Doris Quigley of East Hampton High School took a dive in the ocean last summer after her lifeguard shift and broke her neck on a sandbar. The months since have been a grueling regimen of physical therapy and tutoring sessions, but Quigley can walk again and has even returned to swimming. (May 16, 2013)

Read more about Doris.

(Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

DORIS QUIGLEYEast Hampton High School

Things usually came easily to Doris Quigley, 17, who excelled in her classes, on her school teams and as an ocean lifeguard for the town. She worked, she studied, she practiced -- and the rewards fell neatly into place.

Then, last year, she decided to take a swim after her lifeguard shift at Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett. She dived in and hit her head on a sandbar. The impact broke her neck and left her paralyzed from the neck down.


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Now, everything was difficult.

Quigley spent long, painful months in hospitals and rehabilitation centers. She didn't see just how many people were rallying to support her.

She wasn't in East Hampton when her small victories -- moving her hand or sitting up -- and the big ones were celebrated by those who heard of them by word-of-mouth.

She wasn't overseas in a combat zone when an Army unit prayed for her after someone associated with one of the troops heard about her story from someone in a local church.

And she wasn't in Town Hall the night her mother, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, came in and proudly announced that her daughter had taken her first step without help. The entire town board audience, often bitterly divided over local issues such as airport use and town taxes, stood up and applauded.

Mostly, Quigley has been measuring her progress in small steps -- literally and figuratively -- and coming to grips with the reality of the Aug. 22 accident. Like many other things -- from becoming a lifeguard to volunteering at the Hamptons Film Festival to spending a semester in Europe -- her recovery was something to be done, and she did it.

Almost since her injury, Quigley has been working hard repeating small things, getting her arms and legs to do what they once did with ease. And as soon as she was able, Quigley resumed her schoolwork with home tutors. Doing so proved just as rigorous an effort as her physical therapy sessions.

"In the hospital I was being tutored three times a week for two hours," she said. "But I was always exhausted . . . they worked me six hours a day [in rehab] at first."

Quigley feels that she's recovered to about 80 percent of where she was before the accident. "Maybe I'll never be 100 percent," she cautions. But there is no defeat in her voice.

Her parents smile when they watch her walk on her own across their living room, using a crutch and a leg brace.

Quigley, the youngest of five children, has decided to take next year off so she can finish her rehabilitation before she enters college.

"I'm going to Tulane University in New Orleans on a Founder's Scholarship," she said. The award is made to incoming freshmen who are in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes and meet other requirements.

Though she has not yet decided on a major, Quigley said that what she's most looking forward to once she arrives at Tulane is meeting new people and seeing different things.

Doing things on her own is something she has been good at. When she wanted to spend a semester in France, her mother insisted that she find out herself how to go about getting into an exchange program. It led to her hosting a French exchange student when she got back.

Then she had to work with a tutor to prepare to take her Algebra II/trigonometry and physics Regents tests, because the French math classes she had taken had not dealt with the same subjects covered in those tests.

And she has already reached one big landmark in her efforts to get her life back to what it was before the accident. "I still go swimming with John Ryan [East Hampton's chief lifeguard]," she said.

What makes you

extraordinary

"I've seen a lot, compared to most 17-year-olds."

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