After the lower part of Courtney Baker's left leg was amputated because of injuries she suffered in a 2012 car wreck, the college volleyball player set herself a gutsy goal:
To continue to play the sport she loves on one good leg.
When I first told you about the then-college sophomore in Sept., 2013, she was using a "running prosthetic" — think of the "blades" worn by South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius — and trying to continue her college career as a member of the Asbury University junior varsity volleyball team.
Since that story, Baker competed for the Asbury JV for two years, all the while aspiring to make the school's varsity.
However, before Baker's final year of college eligibility, an unanticipated door opened that has allowed her to hope for more than college volleyball.
In August, Baker represented the United States in a major international competition in the sport of "sitting volleyball." Part of the Paralympics movement, sitting volleyball is what it sounds like.
"The court is smaller, the net is lower and you play on your butt," Baker says. "But the rest of the rules are pretty much the same."
In a sense, the reach of the Internet is what allowed Baker to go from the Asbury JV to a member of Team USA at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto (Aug. 7-15).
As a college freshman, Baker's life changed inalterably on Dec. 13, 2012.
The previous night, the former Christian County High School volleyball standout stayed up into the wee hours studying for a math final. The following day, her Asbury exams completed, she was driving home to Crofton on the Bluegrass Parkway when she fell asleep at the wheel near Bardstown. In the ensuing wreck, Baker's 2006 light blue Ford Mustang went airborne and crashed into a guardrail.
Among other injuries that resulted, her lower left leg was badly mangled. Eventually, it had to be amputated just below the knee.
After she began her unlikely volleyball comeback, several newspaper articles were written about Baker.
In Oklahoma, staff members with the women's U.S. sitting volleyball national team ran across those stories online.
"We read about Courtney and she sounded like someone that would be a good prospect for what we do," said Bill Hamiter, head coach of the U.S. women's sitting volleyball national team. "We reached out to her to see if she was interested."
Baker was leery at first, but warmed to the idea of another way to continue to play volleyball.
In standing women's volleyball, the dimensions of the court are 59 feet by 29'6 and the net is 7 feet, 4 inches high. Women's sitting volleyball features a playing area of 32 feet by 9'7 and a net that is 3 feet, 5.34 inches high.
When she took up the new sport, "I had to get used to the low net and playing on my butt," Baker said. "I started improving, and I think (Team USA) saw potential in me."
Enough so that Baker made the American roster for the Parapan AM Games (companion of the Pan Am Games) as a reserve.
"I did not start, but I did play in, I think, three (of five) games," Baker said. "And we won the gold medal."
By virtue of claiming a silver medal in the 2014 World Championships, Team USA qualified in women's sitting volleyball for the 2016 Paralympics (Sept. 7-18) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Baker's new goal is to make that roster and go to Rio.
Hamiter says that team "doesn't have to be selected until July 15 (2016). Most likely, we'll name the roster earlier than that. We have a big competition in Beijing (China) in March. That will go a long way, I would think, in helping us pick our team."
Baker has transferred from Asbury to the University of Kentucky. "It gives me more schedule flexibility so I can make trips to Oklahoma to train," she said. The women's sitting volleyball team trains at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Okla.
J.P. Rader, the Asbury volleyball coach, says, "We were really thankful to have Courtney at Asbury. We're proud of her and think what she is doing is amazing. We're pulling for her to make it to Rio."
In switching from college volleyball to the sitting game, Baker does not feel like she compromised the goal she set for herself after her car accident.
"I don't feel like I gave up on my dream," she says. "I just found another way to play the game I love."