Staff Writer

Rocky Gilbert used to stand well over six feet in height. However, after a motorcycle accident on Aug. 26, 2008, he is at a full height of barely over four feet.

After losing control of his motorcycle on Dunbar Cave Road, he crossed the yellow line and was hit head-on by a truck. The collision rendered Gilbert paralyzed from the chest down.

After months of strenuous outpatient physical therapy, Gilbert is now only paralyzed from the waist down and is confined to a wheelchair.

After two years of recovery and gaining independence, Gilbert is determined to complete the mission he started in the fall of 2008: continuing his education.

Just weeks before the incident, Gilbert was planning to attend APSU.

Gilbert, now 32, had spent roughly seven years working with his father in a home improvement business. Due to an unsteady clientele, Gilbert decided to obtain a degree in order to make himself more marketable to employers.

Starting in January, Gilbert will be taking online courses offered by APSU. As a freshman, Gilbert will mainly be taking liberal arts classes in order to get a feel for college-level courses and will attend with a non-declared major.

Though APSU’s campus is handicap accessible, Gilbert finds navigating the campus in a wheelchair would prove extremely difficult and almost impossible. Given the time periods between classes as well as the distances he will have to travel, Gilbert feels as if online classes would be his best choice.

“Out of the whole campus, I think there’s 22 handicap [parking] spots … It’s ridiculous,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert is passionate about being an advocate for making APSU a more handicap friendly campus.

He explained even the ramps can be found all over campus are far too steep and unrealistic for wheelchair-bound travelers. Gilbert recalled an incident in which he tipped over in his chair while attempting to go up one set of ramps located near the MUC.

“I fell over backwards going up [that] ramp before, and I even had tip-over bars and everything. I know they have to build everything up to code, but you can’t expect someone [in a wheelchair] to make it from one side of the campus to the complete other side in seven minutes,” Gilbert explained.

Gilbert can recall the reconstruction of the APSU campus after the 1999 tornados and the promise of improving the campus for students. However, Gilbert says while some improvements were made, more could have been completed in order to cater to everyone.

He feels younger handicap students attending APSU for the first time may be a little overwhelmed not just physically, but emotionally as well.

Gilbert has overcome many obstacles during his recovery process. While adjusting to a complete overhaul of the way he lives his life on an everyday basis, he has conquered each roadblock with perseverance. Gilbert contributes much of his strength to the support of his parents.

“My mom and dad have been a big deal for me. I think it’s just the way I’ve been raised: Don’t dwell on things that you can’t do anything about … I can do all my exercises and stretches and stuff, but I can’t make this leg walk. You just have to accept it,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert has been residing independently for months now. While he has gained a sense of self-reliance, he has had to deal with depression.

“[Before the accident], I was coaching softball teams, coaching Little League football teams, playing softball, playing basketball, coaching AAU classes, riding dirt bikes … I was a very physical person,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert is still coaching a softball team and has been for approximately two years. He explained he has had to adapt to many changes but has gained an appreciation for things he used to take for granted.

“I was thinking that I was going to be taking over the business for my dad so he could retire … It’s been two years now, and I can’t just keep sitting around. Tennessee Rehabilitation got into contact with me and is paying for my tuition in full … There’s a chance I won’t get back on my feet, so I need to get knowledge in something else.” TAS