A Positive Tune: Bike accident didn’t deter North Stafford graduate

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, InsideNoVa.com, and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

Karl Rice. (Courtesy Doug Stroud/InsideNova.com)

North Stafford High School graduate Karl Rice will always remember his high school days.

He’ll remember a kaleidoscope of friends, swim team, prom and chorus.

It was March 11, 2021, right after school and the day before spring break.

Rice and two friends hopped on their bikes to go to Publix to pick up cinnamon rolls. He was listening to music when he took a wrong turn. Suddenly, he was hit by an oncoming truck — and life quickly changed.

Last month, the 18-year-old received his high school diploma — and realized he was lucky to be there.

“They called me a miracle,” Rice said, referring to his doctors.

The truck was traveling about 35 mph in Embrey Mill near Ebenezer United Methodist Church. His friends were unharmed.

The bike ride — a quick trip from his North Stafford home near Eustace Road — resulted in devastating injuries, including fractures of the spine, a traumatic brain injury with bleeding spots on the brain, broken ribs, deafness in one ear and damaged vocal chords.

After five-and-a-half days in the neurological intensive care unit, Rice went home.

Somehow, he didn’t miss any school days because it was spring break and virtual school was still being held due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He survived, but it wasn’t easy. At first, he struggled to speak, and couldn’t bathe himself or even walk. Rice said he was told that with just a quarter-inch difference in damage to his spine, the result could have been even more tragic.

He underwent occupational, physical and speech therapy. Rice said his father helped him learn to walk again.

Telling his story

Later, at a Jostens Renaissance Global Leadership Conference he was invited to speak at in Florida, Rice told his story — that he was born in Hanover, Md., but first had the chance to experience different cultures and people when he moved to Singapore and Malaysia with his family.

(Courtesy InsideNova.com)

His father’s job with the U.S. Marine Corps took the family to far-off places where Rice played with tigers, rode camels and elephants, climbed the steps of temples and experienced amazing adventures.

Then in the sixth grade, he moved to Stafford with his family — parents Barbara and Caryll and two older sisters, Ahissa and Crystan.

He spoke about his accident and about change: from self-consciousness over a changing voice in middle school to the change that almost took his life.

You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how change affects you, he explained, and change can be a miracle.

In tough times, he said, “You have the chance to become someone else’s miracle.” He noted the many supporters on his road to recovery — family, friends, students and teachers — and even comforting family pets, including his Daschund “wiener dog,” Fritzie.

“I was the boy who didn’t know how much he needed people,” Rice said in his speech. “I’m not the same person I was before the accident.”

A return to singing

Before the accident, Rice could be found at the pool or auditioning for choral roles in school productions. After all, the self-described “shower singer” always had a passion for singing. It was a struggle to return to singing though, when the pastime reminded him of what he lost.

His vocal chords were damaged, along with his confidence.

North Stafford choral director Lindsay Long said that despite the accident, Rice’s commitment was “unwavering.” Long — one of the teachers who Rice said left the biggest impact on him — encouraged him to prevail and return to singing.

“She changed how I saw myself,” said Rice, who fought to overcome what he lost.

(Courtesy Doug Stroud/InsideNova.com)

Long said Rice wound up having “a very successful high school singing career that I hope he takes with him to college and beyond.”

But also, she added, “He has an incredible gift for leadership and an ability to inspire and encourage others that I have not seen from another student in my career as a teacher. He is a remarkable young man and I am so excited to see what the future will hold for him.”

During high school, Rice volunteered at Stafford Junction — a nonprofit that helps local children and their families facing poverty. He has worked at Chick-fil-A for almost a year and was promoted to team leader within six months.

North Stafford’s principal, Dashan Turner, said that Rice was one of the first students he met when he became principal last summer.

“I was already impressed,” Turner said after hearing about him.

Karl Rice speaking at his graduation ceremony. (Courtesy InsideNova.com)

But then, “I watched him all year long be a consistent leader, building relationships and motivating others,” he added.

Rice is “outspoken, with an ability to persevere, still a kid but not afraid to have fun and make people laugh,” and “what we want to see in a student,” Turner described.

There are still remnants of the accident.

Rice said he experienced “a deaf ear” for a year and a half and still endures nerve and hip pain, headaches and trouble with short-term memory and “processing things.”

This fall, Rice will head to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, with plans to study architecture.

And he’ll look back with fondness to his time at North Stafford, where he gained great mentors and friends. The best part of high school, Rice said, was the people he met there — and that he could talk to anyone.

“I never felt looked down upon or different there,” Rice said. “We’re all here for each other.”

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