Rockingham resident Kandace Frye was paralyzed in a January 2014 traffic accident, but she hasn’t let it get her down. Before the accident, she was a fitness instructor at FirstHealth Fitness-Richmond, where she now works in the membership office and is known for her big smile and “joyous” personality. Her supervisor, center manager Jonathan Pope, (also pictured) calls her “an inspiration to everyone around her.”
ROCKINGHAM – The tattoo on Kandace Frye’s left arm stretches from elbow to wrist. The words are from the Bible, verses 2 and 3 from the first chapter of the New Testament Book of James. She had them tattooed on her arm so she could get to them easily whenever she felt the need for their message.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faithproduces perseverance.”
Although she’s just 22, Frye, who works in the membership office at FirstHealth Fitness in Rockingham, knows what it means to face trials and to persevere. She also knows “pure joy.” Just ask anyone who has met her.
Less than a year ago, Frye was a typical young person, attempting – as young people often do – to make her way into the adult world with varying degrees of success, juggling school and career decisions and, by her own admission, maybe partying a little too much.
A rainy night last January changed her life. She was in an automobile accident that left her paralyzed from the mid-chest down. Instead of the anger or depression that most of us might experience with such a blow, Frye found something positive in it.
“It could have been worse,” she says, flashing the big smile that the fitness center’s staff and patrons have come to know.
One of those patrons is Jan Stivers, a frequent visitor to the facility, both as a member and in her job as a physician liaison with FirstHealth Business Development. While she doesn’t know Frye personally, she knows her by sight and personality.
“She is in a wheelchair, yet every time I see her, she has a big smile and seems joyous,” Stivers says.
Jonathan Pope, the new manager of the Richmond fitness center, has known Frye for only a few weeks, but he feels exactly the same way.
“Kandace is always smiling,” he says. “In the short amount of time that I've known her, I can tell there’s something special about her. Her perseverance and positive attitude are an inspiration to everyone around her.”
Before the accident, Frye was trying to decide what she was wanted to do with her life. She had tried nursing school, but found nursing wasn’t for her. Instead, she was working as a fitness instructor at the Richmond fitness center and enrolled in an exercise science program at Sandhills Community College.
Then came the night of Jan. 10, 2014; a rain-soaked curve; and a friend behind the wheel of an unfamiliar car -- ironically, Frye’s own car. She hadn’t wanted to drive in the dark and the rain, so she had slipped into the back seat with another friend.
The car hit water in the curve, ran off the road, overcorrected and flipped. The driver, another friend and the girl in the back seat beside Frye walked away.
“I felt like I was broken in half,” she says.
During six hours in an operating room, surgeons used rods and screws to reconnect her spinal cord, effectively turning her into a “Bionic Woman,” she says with her big, infectious smile. After more than a month of recovery and therapy in Chapel Hill, she returned home to Rockingham, outpatient therapy at Richmond Memorial Hospital, and the resolve to live a full and purposeful life.
An unexpected call from the Richmond fitness center offered the “blessing in disguise” that was just she needed. Would she like to come back to work, but this time to a casual part-time job in membership?
Frye had loved the center since first taken to the place as a child by her grandfather, also a fitness instructor, so her answer was an immediate yes.
“This has been a lifesaver,” she says.
Frye’s fitness center co-workers are just as happy to have her back as she is to be there, and it didn’t take her long to establish herself as the “joyous” presence that Jan Stivers describes and the girl with “something special” that Jonathan Pope quickly came to know.
She’s just grateful for the opportunity as well as for the support of her friends; her co-workers; her pastor and her church, Roberdel Baptist; and her parents, Franklin and Sharon Frye.
Frye has been approached about working more hours, and she’s thinking about returning to school, maybe for a business degree. She looks forward to being able to drive again, and she hopes that technology will someday offer her the chance to get out of her wheelchair and walk.
In the meantime, “I have my down days,” she admits, “but there is a reason I’m like this. It was bad, but it could have been worse. I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’ve been blessed.”