Why We Walk
Home City: Greenville, SC
Crash Anniversary: October 12, 2012
On October 12, 2012, Rita and Tony Goodson were on their way home from a night out in Greenville on a motorcycle when they were hit by a drunk driver when coming out of a stop at a traffic light. Tony fell off and had three scratches and a sprained thumb. Rita was not responsive. Their daughter Brittany was living in New York City when she got the call and was on the next flight out the following morning. When she walked into the hospital's ICU, she saw her mom hooked up to machines, her body swollen, and she was not breathing on her own. She was on complete life support.
After the reenactment of the crash, investigators discovered that as the truck (a dually pick up) that struck them kept driving, Rita fell off the back of the bike and the back tire of the truck ran over her head. She was wearing a helmet.
The family sat by day and night waiting for a sign of any life left in her. The neurologist could give no prognosis due to the unpredictably of the human brain. Rita suffered from a traumatic brain injury called DAI (diffused axonal injury), which is the shearing of brain matter, in her lower skull region.
The family remained hopeful when Rita began to show signs of breathing on her own again, regulating her blood pressure, etc. She was given a tracheotomy. One month later, Rita spoke her first words to a therapist when the therapist was moving Rita's leg--"Stop. That hurts.” It was appropriate and made sense. Then days would pass with no response at all. A few days before Christmas she had a conversation with her son, Rob. She knew who she was, that she was a teacher, and that she wanted him to tell her daughter she loved her. It was this moment that they knew Rita was indeed still a fighter and would slowly but surely overcome the odds. It was February before she took her first steps. She wasn't released from the hospital until late March. She remained in outpatient therapy until August 2014.
Brittany responded to a volunteer opportunity for students to assist with the first Walk Like MADD Columbia in 2014. It was a perfect fit given what had happened to her family. Of course, she captained a team for her mother.
Rita attended the first walk but did not walk. She stayed in a chair with her walker in the Victim Tribute area the whole time, meeting other victims.
In 2015, she came again. This time, her family was so proud as she completed the first leg of the walk—about one mile. It was a major accomplishment.
Team Rita was the top fundraising team for Walk Like MADD Columbia 2016. April 9th was a wonderful day. After most had finished and hung out for a while in the Rally Grounds area, staff and volunteers began the first stages of breaking things down and starting to clean up. The volunteers staffing the “far” water station had not returned, as they would usually follow the last walkers back and pick up some of the route signage along the way. Staff couldn’t figure out why they were taking so long.
Minutes later, a group appeared through the tree line along the path. A handful of people quickly realized who was at the center of that group. Supported by her family, Rita was slowly making her way to the finish line. MADD Program Director Steven Burritt yelled “She did the whole walk!” and many who knew Rita’s story ran to cheer her along the last few steps. She was so proud, and her family was so excited.
On April 22, 2017, Rita showed her journey has continued as she completed the Walk 50 minutes faster than 2016!
The usual measure of progress for Walk Like MADD is the fundraising thermometer on the webpage, but Walk Like MADD has been a very different and special measure of progress for the Goodson family.