An ordinary fall day. An ordinary pile of leaves. An ordinary game that proved Colin Heffern was nothing less than extraordinary.
Heffern, a freshman landscape architecture major, was paralyzed last October after "belly flopping" into a pile of leaves in the Corbett courtyard with friends, knocking his chin back and cracking his C-4 vertebrae, losing his ability to move anything from the shoulders down.
"Originally I thought I would walk in a couple months. It didn't hit me right away," he said. "It sucked, but I realized I still had my brain so I am fine. I took it very well."
The rest of his residence hall was in shock about the incident.
"I had been gone for the weekend, and when I got back I found the entire floor huddled in their rooms. We have a close-knit floor, and it just brought everyone closer," said Residence Hall Assistant Melissa Young , a senior English major.
After the accident, Heffern was rushed to Poudre Valley Hospital where he spent a week. He was then moved to Craig Hospital in Denver, which specializes in brain and spinal injuries. He stayed until he was able to return to his home in Cheyenne, Wyo., in late July.
"I had always planned to come back to school, even right when I was injured. I have had a good time here and just planned to return next year," Heffern said.
Heffern's absence from Corbett Hall for the remainder of the year didn't keep his hall from him.
"We had fundraisers to help him remodel his home," Young said. "We'd visit him in Wyoming, and we had dinner with him at Maggiano's. The whole floor came."
Preparations for Heffern's move back to the residence hall were already being made during the summer.
"Our goal is to provide educational opportunities for all individuals," said Rick Pott, assistant director for housing operations management . "We modify facilities as necessary to make the halls a home to all students."
And CSU did just that. Working with other staff, students and Resources for Disabled Students, Pott coordinated the installation of various technologies including a voice activated computer, room controls, furniture better suited for a wheelchair and adjustable to specific needs and doors that can be operated from Heffern's chair.
"We are accommodating to all students. If there's something we can do to assist a student, we'll do it," said Mary Ellen Sinnwell, director of housing and dining services .
Young said that while CSU has been "accommodating," financial restraints have prevented all doors from being modified so Heffern could operate them.
"There are only certain doors he can open. For instance, he can only open the door to his hall in his dorm. He has to wait for someone to open others for him," she said.
Although the campus has not been made entirely accessible to Heffern and others in his situation, he hasn't let that limit his relationships.
"I am not able to do a lot, like play a sport, go work out or eat by myself, but I still meet a lot of people and hang out with a lot of people," he said.
Despite his positive attitude about his situation, Heffern has had to adjust to his limitations.
"It's hard not to be able to take care of yourself, like feeding and bathing," he said.
Heffern said he has aids to help him take notes in class, get him up in the morning and put him to bed. He doesn't have a roommate, but he has a suitemate "in case of emergency."
"It is important to help all students be successful at CSU. It is our partnership in helping them be successful both academically and personally," Sinnwell said.
Young said Heffern is more than ready to stand up to the challenges he now faces.
"I am studying landscape architecture and would like to go into that," he said. "I eventually want to design a golf course."
Heffern feels content with where he is now.
"A lot of people in my situation wait for the cure and don't use what they do have – their brain. I think you should make due with what you've got for the time being and keep hope for the cure in the back of your mind," he said.