During a pick-up game of football, Vance’s suffered an injury that left him an amputee, his right leg removed from the knee down.
For the three-sport athlete, life was definitely about to change.
“It could have been over,” Vance said of the injury and how it affected everything he had done up to that point.
While he was getting adjusted to an artificial limb, Vance’s life changed again.
“I got lucky,” Vance said. “Someone hit me on Facebook.”
That somebody was Jennifer Roarke Long of Methodist Rehabilitation in Jackson. She got Vance involved with testing prosthetic limbs for athletes which led him back into competitive sports in track. His first trip to the Endeavor Games in Oklahoma started a chain of events that landed him in competition in the 2012 Paralympics in London, participating in the 100m, 200m and shot-put.
Along the way, he trained with Team USA in Chula Vista, Calif., and began speaking engagements and public appearances about rising above a disability and making the most of his life.
Roarke has stayed a constant in Vance’s life and has seen him grow through his travels and his competitions.
“I’ve had to tell him the times when he was screwing up, but here lately I’ve definitely had to tell him more how proud I am of what he’s become,” Long said. “He’s just learned so much about his sport. He’s learned what it mean to be a mentor and have kids look up to him.”
Long related a story of Vance’s last trip to the Endeavor Games this summer.
“He got up every day to meet a nine-year-old kid at the track that had never run to give him some pointers,” Long said. “At the end of the weekend (the child) was wearing a USA Paralympic shirt. I asked him where he got that shirt and he told me Shaquille had taken it off at the track and given it to him.”
And how many shirts has Vance given Long?
“None,” she joked.
“I think Shaquille has realized that he can not only have an impact on a small group of people, but his impact can be widespread,” Long said.
Vance’s impact was also felt by Joan Parks of Houston. Parks knew of Vance through her son, Chad Underwood, but didn’t meet him until the fall after his accident when she began teaching Culinary Arts at Houston High School and he entered his senior year.
“It was nice to put a face with the name,” Parks said. “And I felt as though I already knew him.”
Parks said the difference in the Shaquille she met then and the man she knows now is visible.
“You could see a little bitterness in him and justifiably so,” Parks said of Vance when he returned to school. “He and everuone else thought he had been robbed of a very promising future with his natural athletic abilities.”
But as Parks grew to know Vance better, she saw more in him than an accident victim and she shared her thoughts for his future.
“I remember he and I sitting down one day and me saying that this is an awful, tragic thing that has happened to you but you can make one of two choices. You can make something good and positive come out of this or you can let this defeat you and make you a bitter person.”
Parks believes God has given Vance an opportunity to reach others and inspire them. Through his development as a para-athlete, Vance trained in the pool at the home of Parks and husband, Rayburn, and brought his daughter, London, to meet them after she was born.
The couple have stayed close with Vance and Parks has watched him develop into a strong, confident man.
“Shaquille has become a positive role model to young kids that he meets at events who have lost limbs,” Parks said. “He is very upbeat and charismatic and is very giving. I am proud to know Shaquille and call him my friend. He has overcome his obstacle through his determination and absolutely will not let a situation defeat him.”
On track for the future
Vance is currently competing in the International Paralympics Committee World Championships in France and then will head to England to go one-on-one with Richard Whitehead, who took first place in the 2012 Paralympics 200m event.
But after that, he plans to slow his competition schedule and return home to complete his education.
Vance postponed entry to college to train with Team USA in 2010 and feels he is now ready to tackle a post-secondary schedule.
“The question always comes up,” Vance said. “Where I would have gone if I hadn’t had the accident. I might have gone to ICC for a couple of years. But looking back on what I do (now) and what I could have done, I get to motivate people and inspire and motivate kids.”
Vance plans to return to Mississippi and wants to enter Mississippi State University to major in Physical Therapy.
“Maroon and white, all day,” he laughed.
He plans to take a break from competition to attend school full-time.
“I’m going to attack it,” Vance said. “I want to get it done and out of the way.”
He would like to stay involved with motivational speaking and working with children and will be available for engagements at schools, churches and other venues as a way to pass along the mentoring and support he received when it was most needed.
He credits family members for keeping him going when times were hard as well as friends, both back home and those he has met through his travels.
“It could have been over,” Vance said. “But I had so many people who wouldn’t let me quit.”