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By Leaps and Bounds, She's Jumped Back Into Her Life : Track and field: Broughton, one of county's top athletes, quickly recovers from serious auto accident.


IRVINE — The painting hangs above the bed. The colors--pinks, blues, reds, yellows and purples--are vibrant. The painting shows a girl, with a beach towel draped casually over her shoulder, walking along the sand toward a row of catamarans. Her back is toward the observer.

The painting speaks volumes about its creator, Tracy Broughton, a bright, energetic senior at Irvine High School.

Although the painting is a window into Broughton's character, it doesn't tell the entire story. Broughton, one of Orange County's top track and field athletes, has faced adversity few have experienced. And she has managed to handle it.

On Oct. 13, 1991, five days after her 17th birthday, Broughton was one of four teen-agers riding in a sport utility vehicle that collided head-on on a two-lane road in the San Gabriel Mountains. The driver, 16, was attempting to pass a car around a corner.

"He swerved to miss that car and hit the mountainside, lost control and fish-tailed to the cliff divider, and then we flipped five times on the opposite side of the road," Broughton recalled. "I was the only one saying, 'Don't pass the car, especially around a corner.'

"Then I knew when we hit the mountain, we were going to get into an accident. But from then on it was kind of a blur. I remember flipping once, then I don't remember anything else."

Broughton, the only person in the accident who was hospitalized, sustained numerous injuries, mostly on her left side: a lacerated spleen, a fractured ankle and arm, a pulled rotator cuff, torn knee cartilage, contusions and nerve damage. She spent 24 days in the hospital, five of them in intensive care, and came home in an electric wheelchair.

"They were telling me, 'It is going to be a long time before she recovers,' " says Tracy's mother, Brenda Thompson. "You know: Give it six months and maybe she can stand up. I'm thinking, what?

"I was trying to think of all the things I could get her to do while she was bedridden. I was trying to find her paints and get it all out and together because Tracy is not the type of person you can put in bed and say, maybe you'll be able to stand up in six months. That doesn't work."

And it didn't. Broughton returned to school, attending one class, after four days at home.

"Most people would have sat home and gotten home care," Broughton says. "I was like, 'No, I'm going to school.' I figured out a way to get the wheelchair into the car. I would stand on one leg, then me and my mom--we'd get the chair in the back of the car with one hand. It was crazy."

Her mother said: "Electric wheelchairs are heavy . . . She was bound and determined to carry on with her life. Nothing was going to stop her.

"Tracy is so talented and (has been) creative since birth. But you know, all that stuff she doesn't get from me. She gets survival skills: how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on with your life. Tracy was at the point if she had to remain in that wheelchair, she was thinking about creative things to do with her life--positive things."

Broughton is a lot like her mother in that aspect. Thompson has battled Hodgkin's disease for six years. She has been told she has a year to live.

"My mom was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment while I was in the hospital," Broughton says. "So she was driving to see me and then undergoing chemotherapy. She'd get radiation and come back and try to help give me a bath."

Broughton started physical therapy a week after returning home, going to sessions two to three times a day at first. When she cut back to two times a day, Broughton started on her own at a local health club.

"For a long time, I just couldn't move anything," Broughton says. "Then I started to just move my foot a little so I would go and put it (the weight machine) on no weight and just try to push it. Just anything I thought would help me."

Her hard work paid off. Broughton had Bruce Albert, an orthopedic surgeon in Irvine, sign a medical release for her to play soccer at Irvine. Believing the soccer season was several months away, Albert signed a release that only allowed Broughton to sign up for the team, not play. The school refused to let her play.

Broughton again asked Albert to sign a release so she could play.

"So, we went in there to see him," Broughton said, "and he said, 'No, Tracy you cannot play soccer . . . You might think you can do a lot, but if we put you on the strength machines, you are not going to show up well.' "

Broughton asked Albert to put her on the machines, and surprisingly, she not only passed the test, but scored one of the highest scores for her weight--man or woman.

Albert signed the release and Broughton played soccer for the Irvine girls' team, although she had only stopped using the wheelchair a few days before Christmas and didn't give up her crutches until Jan. 10.

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