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Walker strikes out disabling spinal disease
Erik Dodge
Antelope Staff
Courtesy photo
When Heather Walker was born, doctors believed she would never walk. As a senior at Amherst High School, Walker was the starting pitcher for every game of the season.

Before she could walk, Heather Walker had both her legs removed.

“They had to saw both my legs off, turn my hip sockets the right way and put them back in,” she said.

Walker shared her story Nov. 17 as part of Disability Awareness Week. She overcame spina bifida to play high school softball and march for the UNK Pride of the Plains marching band.  From a young age she faced many challenges, but just wanted to be given a chance.

The UNK sophomore was born with a form of spina bifida, called myelomeningocele, a birth defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close. “When I was born I was not expected to move from the waist down and to be restricted to my wheelchair for the rest of my life,” the Amherst graduate said.

But her mom would never give up and exercised her legs frequently. Walker had six surgeries before she turned three and 13 total. A wheelchair was her mode of transportation until the surgery that removed her legs at the hip. After the surgery, she was asked to walk as soon as she woke up.

“That was the toughest time of my entire life. That day after surgery, that’s the worst pain I have ever felt,” the nursing major said.

In high school, Walker was not too afraid to go out for the softball team, but her coaches did not want to put her in a game.

“I could see where they were coming from. They didn’t want me to get hurt,” she said.

At the end of her junior season, she finally got the chance to play. Her team was losing, the top two pitchers were out, and there was one inning left in the final game of the year. As she walked to the mound she could hear whispers from the crowd and jeering from the opposing team.

“When the other team was booing at me that really pumped me up,” she said.

Her first pitch flew past the batter. So did the second and the third. Walker struck out all three batters to end the inning.

“The crowd went wild after that inning, and it was great. The standing ovation, that’s what I remember,” she said.

The following year she was the starting pitcher for every game of the season.

As a UNK freshman, she overcame another challenge to get on the field. She wanted to play in the marching band, but needed her motorized scooter to move around. In high school, someone would drive her scooter while she played the trumpet. But with practices everyday, she did not want to rely on someone else.

“The conclusion came to be that I would be driving with one hand and playing with the other hand,” she said.

Band directors Dr. Gary Davis and Dr. Neal Schnoor usually had students with mobility issues play on the sidelines instead of marching with the band, but Walker asked for a chance.

“Can you give me one shot? Just get me on that field and see what I can do,” she said.

Her performance convinced them, and she is now a trumpeter in the marching band.

Walker delivered her speech on Nov. 17 in the Nebraskan Student Union Room 310. The presentation included pictures from different stages of her life and videos of her in marching band and playing softball.

Walker hopes to inspire people to give those with disabilities a chance.

“You can’t just judge a person who has a condition on their looks. You have to give them a shot. Don’t just put them in a glass bubble,” she said.

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