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  • Writer's pictureOlivia Brown

Coastal Carolina’s Tahalia Collier Lifts Herself Up

September 10, 2018

“Is everyone in your family home?”

At 7:30 p.m., Tamara Collier, a mother of three, received this phone call from her sister. She had driven past a car accident on the side of the road in their hometown of Ridgeway, South Carolina.

Tamara took inventory. She realized her high-school-aged daughter, Tahalia, hadn’t returned from dinner with her cousin Makaila. She tried calling Tahalia’s phone. It went to voicemail, which was unusual. Tahalia always picked up her phone.

Tamara drove to the accident scene. Her gut sank as she recognized the car. On the side of the road, Makaila’s car crumpled perpendicularly into a large white truck. The front was completely smashed inward, the hood peeled back, tires flat, front doors hanging off with the windows shattered.

Tamara’s heart shattered, too. She prayed her daughter would make it out alive.

Several Years Prior

Tahalia Collier’s elementary school classmates introduced her to adversity.

“When you’re young, people like to pick at you for little things,” she said. “I used to get picked on about my lip and how tall I was. Kids also used to pick on my appearance and call me ugly.”

Tahalia’s family would try to counterbalance, building her up and calling her beautiful. But Tahalia had her own plans. As a third grader, she asked her mom to sign her up for beauty pageants held at her school. She wanted to prove her beauty and intelligence to herself. By fifth grade, she had won runner-up and won Miss Congeniality.

When bullies tried to hold her down, Tahalia found a way to lift herself up.

Outside of pageants, Tahalia found solace on the basketball court.

Tahalia learned the game from watching her eight-years-older sister, Deniesha, play high school basketball. When she decided she wanted to play in second grade, her family took her to the park down the road. Deniesha, their older brother Kelvin, her Aunt Mona, Aunt Mona’s boyfriend, and her cousins would compete in games of “21.”

Trips to the park became a regular occurrence for the Collier clan. Not only did this bond their family, but they also allowed Tahalia to practice her game. In second grade, she began playing in a local recreational league.

In a fourth-grade game, Tahalia lined up around the circle to start the game. The ref threw the ball in the air and her teammate tipped Tahalia the jump ball. With a full head of steam, she dribbled to the basket and made a layup. Then, instead of running back on defense, she sprinted – to the bathroom to throw up.

“After I got cleaned up, I told my coach I was ready to play again,” Tahalia recalled.

She sipped some Gatorade, gathered herself, and went back into the game. From that point on, Tahalia knew she loved basketball. It was a sick feeling knowing she had found her favorite sport.

When nausea tried to hold her down, Tahalia lifted herself back up.

A Year Earlier, 2017

Huddled before the fourth quarter, Tahalia Collier and her Fairfield Central High School teammates looked at the scoreboard. With eight minutes left, Fairfield would have to overcome a steep deficit to win. Keenan High School boasted one of the best teams in the region, and many doubted Fairfield would win.

Yet Tahalia never backed down from adversity. As her team gathered around, the then-freshman point guard decided to take the lead.

“We’re not working hard enough. We got this and we can do this,” Tahalia remembered saying to her teammates.

After breaking down from the huddle, Fairfield came out with renewed energy. Their passes were crisp, they locked down on defense, and they scored the ball. Fairfield won in an upset. When her team needed her, Tahalia had found the right words to inspire.

Tahalia’s ability to motivate her teammates was one example from a season of leadership. When her teammates messed up, Tahalia would pat them on the back and say “next play.” Tahalia would stand first in line in drills and lead her squad through practice. Even when she was not in the game, she would be the loudest cheerleader on the bench.

In the eyes of others, Tahalia radiated self-assurance. Yet at the beginning of the season, Tahalia doubted her ability to be Fairfield’s point guard. Instead of cowering from a lack of confidence, Tahalia let it fuel her. She did extra workouts outside of her practice, learned new moves, and built relationships with her teammates. Tahalia also continued to play on an AAU team she had joined in seventh grade.

When doubt tried to hold her down, Tahalia lifted herself up.

Her freshman season, Tahalia started and earned the title of captain. She finished the year with an All-Region honor.

“What I admire the most [about Tahalia] are the intangibles – her resilience and fearlessness on the court, her work ethic, and her ability and willingness to succeed and make others around her great,” said Shaun Gortman, Tahalia’s AAU coach.

After a dominant freshman campaign, Tahalia knew the ball was in her court for her sophomore season. She had spent the summer learning new moves and leading her high school teammates through practices. The internal doubts from her freshman year had subsided, and she felt confident in her abilities to be a great basketball player.

September 10, 2018

Two days before her sixteenth birthday and right before the beginning of her sophomore basketball season, Tahalia and Makaila went to get food.

Later, Tahalia’s mother and siblings arrived at the scene of the car accident.

“I couldn’t think,” Tamara recalls. “My son and daughter were hysterical.”

A stretcher appeared. Tamara called Tahalia’s name repeatedly, but Tahalia did not respond. The EMT noted Tahalia’s loss of blood – both of her leg bones had punctured through the skin.

Tahalia remained on a ventilator for several days. Doctors informed her family that Tahalia had broken both femurs, her left foot, and her lower spine. She also had a bruised kidney and a laceration in her spleen.

After the accident, Tahalia underwent intensive physical therapy. She took her high school classes remotely from her hospital bed, all while keeping a 4.0 grade point average. Her classmates also nominated her Homecoming Queen. Though bittersweet, Tahalia regained her crown from her pageant days.

Her injuries prevented Tahalia from playing her sophomore season. It pained her to know she couldn’t be on the court helping her team.

She remembered going to a high school game, slowly walking to the bench while her teammates ran out to the court. “I wanted to be out there and I wanted to help them. But I felt like I couldn’t. It almost felt like I had let my team down,” she said.

Tahalia recalled her self-esteem plummeting. The accident stripped a large part of her identity. Her injuries hindered her from being the leader she had grown into during the past year. She could not make the moves she had worked on the previous summer; she could not hustle for loose balls and lock down on defense; she could not turn the game around by making great plays. Instead, she had to sit on the bench and watch her team navigate the game without her.

Yet Tahalia’s community saw her as a hero. Her story inspired her teammates, her classmates, and neighbors. Many were awe-struck that she lived.

Tahalia pushed herself in physical therapy, spending hours re-learning how to walk. Each day felt like a struggle. Yet stepping back on the court with her teammates motivated Tahalia to recover. The accident occurred September 10; Tahalia walked again on October 10.

Not only did she learn to walk again, but she also recovered enough to play her junior and senior seasons of both AAU and high school basketball. She received two more all-region honors at Fairfield Central.

When a life-threatening car accident tried to hold her down, Tahalia lifted herself up.

“The road to recovery was hard but she pushed herself,” Tamara said. “She is the strongest person I know. I am so proud to be her mother.”

January 2022

After a loss against Kennesaw State her freshman year, Tahalia Collier and her Coastal Carolina University club basketball teammates sat in a circle. Their heads down, the feelings of disappointment and frustration hung in the air. Tahalia winced as she replayed moments from the game in her head.

Her teammates and coaches began to talk. She waited for them to come around the circle to her, pointing out her mistakes. But something else happened.

Her coaches called her the “clutch player,” applauding her reliability in big moments of the game. Her teammates told Tahalia that she served as the team’s ultimate hype person, uplifting and encouraging everyone. “She makes plays that get everyone back in the groove,” said her teammate, Kennedy Ashwood. “She really goes for what she wants. She is headstrong and a go-getter.”

“My self-esteem has gone up from just hearing [the positive things] they had to say,” said the 5-foot-6 guard.

Her teammates and coaches’ praise stemmed from the team’s close relationship.

Tahalia said her car accident prevented her from playing collegiate basketball. Club basketball became the perfect alternative. Her team at Coastal Carolina has given her a community – they bowl, hang out together, and go out to eat. Her teammates at Coastal Carolina have become some of her closest friends. Club has also provided her with a high level of competition, and her teammates and opponents push her to be a great player.

“Club has really made Coastal the best experience for me,” Tahalia said.

Present day

Now, Tahalia steps onto the recreational court at Coastal Carolina. Her practice hasn’t started yet, so she talks with her close friends Kennedy Ashwood and Keana Garrett, or jokes with her coaches.

Earlier in the day, she sat in her Exercise Science classes. She plans to become a physical therapist – a calling she found from hours spent recovering from her accident. Physical therapy also appeals to Tahalia because she would be helping others, something she naturally does with her teammates and everyone around her.

Tahalia is happy. She is happy with club basketball, her friendships, and her studies. Most importantly, she is happy with herself.

Tahalia has faced adversity. She realizes there will be more challenges in the future. Fortunately, she knows she has the strength to lift herself back up whenever life knocks her down.

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