Yellow Springs senior inspired to overcome all challenges

She’s never one to back down from a challenge. Yet, Yellow Springs High School senior Kelli Baxter realizes placing at Tuesday’s Division III district track and field meet in West Milton is a long shot. There was a time when Baxter would have crushed the competition in a scooting contest.

Baxter was born with Brachial Plexus Injury – her form was Erb’s palsy – when a nerve in her neck tore during delivery. She also suffered a broken clavicle. The injury left Baxter with limited use in her left arm. She can barely lift it past her chest.

As a baby Baxter was unable to crawl, so she compensated. She learned to scoot. And fast.

“She’d burn those Pampers up,” her father, Reggie Baxter said, laughing. “I kept one she melted. She’d scoot so fast on the carpet she’d melt the Pampers down.”

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Doctors told Baxter’s parents, Reggie and Teela, her walking would be delayed until about 3 years old. Baxter said she was walking before 2.

“Whatever the doctors tell me I can’t do I always try to figure out how I can do it,” she said.

Baxter overcame additional challenges as well. Learning to ride a bike with one hand was tough. She was told tying her shoes might be an impossible task. It was no match for Baxter.

And neither was asthma. Baxter was hospitalized twice before the age of 9 with required stays of six and seven days. She couldn’t go outside for gym class or recess in fourth through sixth grade if the temperature were 60 degrees or lower. In seventh grade it was lowered to 50 degrees or less and eventually 40 degrees. Baxter didn’t run track last season partly because of asthma, but after a recent well check she seems to have finally outgrown it.

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“It never stopped her. She’s got the bumps, bruises and scars to prove it,” Reggie Baxter said of tackling her obstacles. “That’s been her life.”

In 2010, as a fourth grader, Baxter was faced with her toughest challenge. Her mother felt ill. A few hours later Teela was in intensive care with a temperature of 106 degrees. She was diagnosed with Encephalitis – a swelling of the brain – and the prognosis was grim. Teela survived but was hospitalized nine months. She still suffers from seizures.

And similar to Drew Barrymore’s character in 50 First Dates, Teela struggles with short-term memory loss.

“You can talk to Teela and you won’t pick up on anything wrong,” Reggie Baxter said. “But the next day she won’t even remember she spoke with you or saw you. If we put you in her environment she can start to remember a little bit.”

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The illness hit Kelli hard, too. Baxter and her mom talked more like sisters and she was her mom’s constant shadow. But that’s also where Baxter found her calling. Helping provide her mom with constant care led Baxter to discover nursing.

She became a state tested nursing assistant at the Greene County Career Center and plans to become a registered nurse at Sinclair Community College. She also hopes to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing at Wright State University. From there Baxter hopes to land her dream job at a children’s hospital in Dayton or Cincinnati.

“I feel like if this wouldn’t have happened, I wouldn’t have jumped so far into nursing,” Baxter said. “I feel like this happened for a great reason. … Like I always tell my dad, I feel like God gives his toughest challenges to his toughest people. I feel like my family and I are one of the toughest people.”

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For now Baxter is focusing on finishing her senior season. That includes competing at the D-III district at Milton-Union High School on Tuesday. Baxter wears a brace on her left arm when she runs and tends to lose her balance when coming out of the blocks because she can’t put her full weight on her arm.

“She’s not the fastest person but she will try her best,” Reggie Baxter said. “That’s all it takes.”

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She has a personal-best 15.20 in the 100-meter dash and 34.10 in the 200.

“I’m going to finish my senior year … enjoy my time with friends,” Baxter said. “I’ve achieved so much and I’m just now getting started. I have so much to do in my life to show people I can achieve things. Running is a stress reliever for me, you could say. … I know I might not win but at least I tried. At least I got on the track and crossed that finish line. I always have in my mind, ‘Hey maybe you’ll win.’ But even though I don’t win I know I’ve worked super hard.”

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