Earlier this month, just after 9:30 p.m., Rayna DuBose emerges from the Virginia Tech locker room to speak to 120 booster club members and children who had just watched the Hokies women's basketball team rout Richmond. DuBose doesn't want to keep the team's most devout supporters waiting, so she slips out of those three-inch heels and moves quickly to the room.
She doesn't think twice about her bare feet, prosthetics fabricated in a factory after both her feet were amputated, or about the metal rods that serve as lower legs. She flexes her forearm, signaling her prosthetic hand to close around a microphone, her other prosthetic hand resting on her hip.
Parts of her life are back to normal for Rayna DuBose, an Oakland Mills graduate and Virginia Tech student, after she battled bacterial meningitis which caused her to have parts of her arms and legs amputated. DuBose gathers her belongings after a fashion class.
(Photos Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
Photo Gallery: Rayna DuBose battled back from a bout with bacterial meningitis to a successful life at Virginia Tech.
DuBose, a four-year player at Oakland Mills and one of the best high school players in Howard County history, dazzles the crowd for 10 minutes, unleashing a captivating smile that her friends consider her most recognizable feature.
"Rayna, can you drive?," a woman asks.
"Yes, just not legally," says Rayna, drawing a full room with laughter.
DuBose fields questions about when she's going to graduate -- December of 2007 -- the well-being of her parents -- "They're fine" -- and how she enjoyed the team trip to Australia last summer -- "It was a lot of fun."
DuBose, a full-time student, a student assistant coach and young woman enjoying life fewer than three years after she almost lost it, doesn't need words to answer the question on everyone's mind: How is she doing?
"It's so great to see her up there and looking well," says booster Rusty McCoy of Christiansburg, Va. "It's inspiring to see what she's gone through to come back here. Everyone in this community knows what Rayna has gone through. It would be impossible not to. It was all everyone was talking about."
"It" happened on April 3, 2002, the first of 97 consecutive days DuBose spent at the Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, fighting for her life against bacterial meningitis, the most serious form of meningitis, an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord and the fluid surrounding the brain. She underwent 10 surgeries, including amputations of her arms four inches below the elbow and her legs six inches below her knees.
"I had to learn how to do everything I knew all over again," said DuBose, who spent eight months in rehabilitation, first in a wheelchair and then with prosthetic limbs. "It took me a long time to learn how to button my clothes and tie my shoes. I still have to tie my shoes before I put them on. I remember last year when I buttoned my pants for the first time, I cried and called everyone I knew."
A Regular Student
DuBose is among the first of 71 students to file into a small classroom for Jiyhun Kim's Introduction to Fashion class, for a lecture on how society's views impact the fashion industry. "When there's a student who may have special needs, I get an e-mail telling me about the student," Kim said. "The only thing I know is that I have two basketball players and a football player."
That's the way DuBose wants it. She doesn't consider herself handicapped. She long ago stopped wearing a hat or visor so people wouldn't realize who she was. She no longer dresses to disguise her prosthetics.
This is who she is, and others just need to accept it. She goes to dance clubs with friends and can still move as gracefully as she did as a child ballerina, before her basketball days.
"You should see her dance; the girl has moves," said Chris Hines, a close friend. "And I'm talking about dancing. She doesn't do that ballet stuff no more out there."