Amy Williams was a little weary a year ago when she decided to quit coaching volleyball. She had led the North County Knights for nine-and-a-half seasons, putting in long hours and maneuvering through a hectic weekly schedule. The satisfaction of devising successful match strategies or watching a spike decide a game in her team's favor was no longer rewarding enough. Williams concluded early last fall that the season's final game would end her coaching days.
But her career, and life, was catapulted to what appeared to be a premature close on a suburban Baltimore road around dusk last October. Williams was riding with a friend, Kelly Guzick, in Guzick's two-door Toyota Tercel on the way back from a visit with friends. Guzick was driving southbound on Harford Road, a two-lane thoroughfare that drops off into the woods on both sides, when a deer passed over the hood "like a cloud passing over the sun." Guzick said the animal shadowed the vehicle in momentary darkness before smashing through the windshield. The impact forever changed both women's lives.
The violent collision decapitated the deer and the full weight of its body landed on Williams, sending both deer and woman sprawling into the back of the car. Williams was in critical condition, with nearly every bone in her face broken. With the nearest ambulance 20 minutes away, Guzick, guided over her cellular phone by a rescue worker, was forced to resuscitate Williams and perform a tracheotomy on her in the back seat. Guzick still is haunted by the collision.
"Not a day goes by I don't think about the accident, see deer running in front of me while I'm driving, or cry myself to sleep thinking about what occurred," she said more than a year later.
"I feel an incredible closeness to Amy. There are times I can look at her and easily just cry. . . There are things that were said in the car for those 20 minutes [before an ambulance arrived] that she doesn't remember but are very deep in my heart."
Williams has no recollection of the accident. But she does remember how life's meaning changed for her as she endured several facial operations--including an initial procedure that lasted 7 1/2 hours--and months of recovery.
And coaching volleyball has gained new purpose.
"I thought it was very ironic that what I was trying to get out of turned out to be one of the most important things in my life," said Williams, 38. ". . . There are the little things in life that usually give everyone the problems. But when you can't do those problems anymore, it makes you take a look at life and see what you can do. When I'm having a bad day, I put myself where I was 10 months ago and realize this isn't so bad."
North County assistant volleyball coach Greg March informed Williams's players the next day about the accident. Before the team's next match, the players made a sign they would carry to the remaining games that read: "Ms. Williams is our motivation and inspiration."
The team visited its coach at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center for the first time that same week. Williams had had facial reconstructive surgery and would be hospitalized for 14 days. She could only communicate through writing on a note pad.
"When I first saw her, I couldn't look because I just started crying," said Brandi Shickton, a senior who has been on the team for four seasons. "I had to look away. If you looked at her you couldn't tell it was her. . . . It was hard to play after that."
North County struggled through the remainder of the season, finishing 7-7, after a 3-0 start, and losing in the first round of the playoffs.
"It was very traumatic," said Alicia Kramp, a senior. "She [Williams] was the key to our team. She was out the whole season [following the accident] and it tore our team apart. It was very hard to play without her there."
The team struggled without Williams and the coach struggled without her team. Each time March visited Williams in the hospital, he said she barraged him with questions about the team. "How are we playing? What drills are you running in practice? When's our next match?"
March said Williams may not have realized how much coaching and the players meant to her, but said she was "raring to go" when she returned to coach North County this season. "She's turned it [the accident] into a positive," March said. "It invigorated her. She's more excited about coaching."
In January, Williams returned to her position at Point Pleasant Elementary School, where she had taught physical education for almost 13 years, and was welcomed back by "Bring Ms. Williams a Flower Day."
"I must have received over 500 flowers," said Williams, who lives in the Baltimore suburb of Pasadena.
But the support she received from students and faculty at North County prompted her to become a full-time physical education teacher at the Glen Burnie school this fall. She believes she is where she belongs: with her players.
"They were there for me, and I want to be there for them," Williams said. Her team is 9-2 and in the midst of its best season in the school's 10-year history. The Knights play Westminster in a Maryland 4A North Region first-round match Nov. 5.
Williams is not thinking too far ahead, however. She recently marked the anniversary of her accident (Oct. 4) with a quiet weekend culminating in a "celebration" dinner with a group of friends. The celebration, Williams said, was for life. "When I truly think about [the accident] I could start to cry," Williams said, "but hey, it's got a happy ending."