When I walked across the stage at Radford University’s graduation in 1987, I had the word “finally” with an exclamation point written on the back of the cap. After five long years, I finally had gotten my diploma.
Well, for one long distance runner, Saturday’s 2017 graduation had an even more special meaning.
Malina Richardson was a three-time Junior Olympic All-American and two-time time Foot Locker All-South Region honoree when she arrived on campus in 2013 from Patrick Henry High School in Ashland, Virginia.
Right out of the gate she charted seven top-10 performances as a freshman on the RU track team. She completed the 1,500 meters at the Raleigh Relays in a season best 4:52.46.
The following year, she set personal records in the 1,500 and 800, finishing eighth at the Big South Championships. She also won the 800 at the Phoenix Invitational.
As a junior, she had season best in five 800-meter races including a 2:18.57 again at the 2016 Phoenix Invitational.
She was overcoming obstacle after obstacle, but this weekend, she might have beaten her biggest opponent yet.
Just a month ago, she sustained second and third degree burns, a punctured lung and multiple fractures including her left cheek and three ribs in a car accident.
Malina and her sister, Maya, were just a few miles from their home in Ashland. They were traveling home for the weekend from Radford University, which they both were attending.
Apparently a tractor-trailer traveled into their lane, and Malina who was driving jerked the steering wheel trying to avoid the truck. They hit an embankment, and the impact sent Maya into the back seat. Police reports show Malina was thrown out the back window.
The vehicle would then roll over on top of Malina. Maya pulled her from underneath the crash. She was rushed to Virginia Commonwealth Health Medical Center.
Doctors told Malina not to expect to be able to attend her own graduation. But through determination and a little help from the volunteer rescue squad that picked her up after the accident, she made it to Radford in time to receive her diploma.
The volunteers made the drive from Ashland to Radford, and made sure Malina beat this opponent and finished the race she had worked so hard at for the past four years.
Hats off to the volunteer rescue squad for going beyond the call of duty, and congratulations to Malina for receiving her diploma despite all the odds.
She has had weeks of surgeries and a lot of treatments, surprising doctors along the way with her courage and determination.
I salute you and simply say “finally.”
Malina Richardson hopes to become a registered nurse after receiving her degree in health education.