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In their own words, student leaders Ashley Dixon and Charles Young tell about the moments when they knew nothing would ever be the same again

Ashley Dixon's story

Ashley Dixon

As Told To Tom Kercheval

Have you ever heard the quote, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog”? I’m going to tell you a story about one little girl who proved the truth of that quote, a little girl who changed my entire outlook on life.

I used to be a really miserable, negative person. But I wore a mask. Nobody ever knew how I truly felt inside. At the time, I worked in a nursing home, and one day I was told I had a new patient in Room 203 named Becky. I was supposed to go in and take her vital signs. I walked into the room, and there was a young girl sitting on the bed. She was beautiful. She had long blonde hair and blue eyes. I had never seen a child so stunning. I asked, “Do you know Becky,” thinking I was looking for the grandma she must’ve been visiting.

“I’m Becky, “ the little girl said. “This is my new room.”

Web Resources

  • Ashley Dixon and Charles Young are both SkillsUSA national officers. Read more about these and other student leaders here.
  • Want to join next year’s officer team? For an application, go here.

I was really confused. I looked all around her room and I saw one pink teddy bear and a tiny bag of clothes. I took her vital signs and did what I was told to do. I had to be professional. This was my job. But as I walked out of the room, I ran over to the nurse’s station and flipped open Becky’s chart. I wanted to make sure I got the right information about the right patient.

Remember, I was working in a nursing home. There were no patients under the age of 65. But Becky was a special case. As I read the chart, I noticed that nobody had signed her in. She was an orphan. And, at 10 years old, she was dying of brain cancer.

An unsettling question

I was heartbroken. In fact, they excused me from work early that day, because I was a mess.

But the next day came, and I had to do patient care. I had to be professional, and I couldn’t let it affect me that she was so young, because it was part of my job.

It didn’t take long for Becky and me to bond. We talked every day. She was the most positive person I’d ever met in my life. She laughed more than anybody I knew. I taught her to play Connect Four, which became her favorite game. We laughed, we watched movies together … I felt like I was a parent to Becky, like she was my daughter.

After three weeks, however, I noticed that I had yet to see a single visitor for her. This affected me more than anything. How could anybody abandon a child? I wanted to make Becky as happy as I could, because I knew what the future brought for her.

One day, Becky told me she was convinced she was going to be a veterinarian. She loved animals and wanted to help them but said she’d never been to a zoo.

I decided I was going to take her. It wasn’t easy getting permission to do this. I had to go through so much paperwork! Finally, however, the nursing home allowed the trip, and we were off.

On the car ride there, Becky asked, “Are you afraid to die?”

Now, put yourself in my position: You’re a 17-year-old, going through a lot yourself, being asked by a 10-year-old girl if you’re afraid to die. With the strongest face I could put on, I told her that, no, I wasn’t afraid to die. “Because when we have a duty, we need to fulfill it,” I said, “and if God needs us, we need to go.”

It took everything I had — everything I had — for me to say this to a girl who I knew only had weeks to live. But I managed to do it, and we went about our big day. We saw the animals, and she told me that she was going to take care of the animals one day. She was convinced. She was living her life as if she wasn’t ever going to die. She had goals, plans. At 10, she knew more about life than I did.

“There’s no reason to be scared,” I said. “Live every day to the fullest and then you’ll really appreciate the true meaning of life.”

On the way home, I remember singing to music in the car. We were having a great time. In fact, Becky wanted to stop at the mall. She said she’d never been to one! I knew I wasn’t supposed to take her to that mall, but I couldn’t resist. I had to take her in there. So we went shopping, we ate in the food court, we spent the day together.

And then, she looked me in the eyes and asked me again.

“Miss Ashley, are you afraid to die?”

When I repeated my “no,” she said, “I think I am.”

“There’s no reason to be scared,” I said. “Live every day to the fullest and then you’ll really appreciate the true meaning of life.”

We returned from the trip in good spirits. Becky had seen one of her dreams come true. But a few days later, I noticed things were starting to change. When Becky was admitted, she was supposed to live only a few weeks, but we were pushing the four-month mark. The cancer was taking over her body.

She died on a Saturday night. A hospice nurse was doing care on her when she passed. But Becky didn’t leave without some final words that I’m convinced were meant for me.

“I’m not scared to die anymore.”

Becky was a small person thrown into a big world. But she fought a big fight. She never got the chance to go to high school, prom or graduation. She never got the chance to have a family, to get a proper education, to play a sport. She never even got the chance to have a family. And yet, until her dying day, she had the most positive attitude of anyone I’ve ever met, and she, a 10-year-old, had the biggest impact on my life so far.

So, the next time you find yourself tempted to give up on something in your own life, remember that 10-year-old girl who never got the opportunity to even begin.

And don’t ever give up.

Changed, Yes. Discouraged, No. Student looks ahead to life working as a trauma nurse

After the painful experience chronicled in this story, it wouldn’t be a stretch to wonder if it made Ashley Dixon question whether she was ready to face life-and-death dilemmas on a daily basis as a nurse.

In fact, Dixon was already dealing with tough issues in her life when she met Becky, having been on her own since she was 16. “I had no parental figures in my life at that time,” Dixon says. But giving up when things get tough has never been her style.

Today, as an 18-year-old high school senior with a bright future, she’s more determined than ever to achieve her goal of working as a trauma nurse.

Dixon recently landed an internship at Kent County Memorial Hospital in Warwick, R.I., where she works on the oncology ward. Not only will the internship provide the student with valuable experience, but it will also pay for her continuing education in full.

She plans to attend the Community College of Rhode Island and eventually the University of Massachusetts, where she hopes to receive her bachelor’s degree.

Described by her teachers as “a mover and a shaker,” and “a committed student with charisma,” Dixon will graduate from high school with honors in both her academic and technical courses. She’s also winding up her term as a SkillsUSA national officer, having been elected last year as Region 1 vice president.

“SkillsUSA has allowed me to be a better, more motivated person,” Dixon says, “and it’s taught me the true values in life. Career-wise, it has trained me and given me all the qualities I need to get my job done right. I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve learned for the world.”

Charles Young

‘B-A-M!’ Surviving two serious accidents surprised everyone but himself

Most of my childhood days were spent on the baseball diamond or swimming at a pool. One day, I was at the local water park, swimming in the wave pool where drains pulled water in and created huge waves.

I guess I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, because I was struck by someone in a tube. The drains turned on at that same moment, trapping me under water for close to five minutes. The lifeguard on duty at the time tried giving me CPR, but I was in a coma for six weeks.

When I awoke, I remember my parents hugging me, kissing me and squeezing me, but I didn’t know who they were. I couldn’t remember anything.

That was one of the hardest things I have ever been through. Every night, my parents, my brother and my sister came into my bedroom to tell me good night and that they loved me. I could never tell them I loved them back.

This caused a lot of fighting between my whole family and me. My brother and sister never understood why I didn’t know who they were. They were strangers to me. Everyone was a stranger.

I hated my life and not knowing who I was. I thought everyone and everything was out to get me. The doctors suggested to my parents that I do things I did before I suffered my memory loss.

Baseball was one thing I remembered. During my first at-bat of the year, I swung the bat, and the ball went over the fence. As I was rounding third, I looked up and I saw my parents. I remembered them! It all came back to me.

I thought the worst was behind me, but then the worst thing in my life happened.

Starting all over again

Two months after my 16th birthday, I was driving down a dirt road and flipped my car end-over-end. On the first roll, I busted out the window with the top of my head. My leg

Charles Young says his favorite word is “BAM!” — an acronym for Believe, Attitude and Motivation. Remembering that word carried him through the second of two serious injuries. “Third time’s the charm, right?” he jokes.

Today, at Oklahoma State University in Okmulgee, Young is enrolled in the drafting program. And he is still able to pursue his love of playing baseball and softball.

An officer for Phi Beta Kappa, Young was also elected last year as a college officer of SkillsUSA. After training with his team members, they picked him to be their president.

Young is already working in his own business, drawing house plans. He plans to stay in the drafting field.

was caught up in the brake and gas pedal. As the car twisted in the air, so did my leg, but not my body. My leg twisted all the way around, tearing every ligament in my left knee.

I was in the emergency room and my parents came in crying. I had no idea why. I just thought I had hurt my knee and needed a few surgeries, nothing too bad. Then I was told the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard: “Son, the doctors say you may never be able to walk again.”

My life started all over again. I told myself, “Not again. I am not going to let something like this control my life.”

The doctors tried hard to make my knee stable again through four surgeries. I told myself every day, “This is not how your life is supposed to be.” So I forced myself to go through physical training every day for four hours. I remember the physical trainer and the doctors telling me that there was no reason to do this. “It’s pointless,” they said.

But I couldn’t tell myself that. This time was different. I believed in myself. I didn’t have a bad attitude toward life. That fueled my motivation to keep on trying and never give up. I loved the way I felt.

I loved the way I carried myself. For once in my life, I loved being me.

In just two short months of the most painful treatment, training and therapy, it was finally paying off. I was able to put a little weight on my leg. Every day got harder. There were days I felt like giving up. I felt like I was getting nowhere. I wanted to quit so many times.

Three months after the wreck, I was walking with a cane. I kept training. Another month went by and I was able to walk on my own. Five months after all the surgeries, all the training, all of the pain, I was running on the leg that was never supposed to hold up. The doctors could not believe it. Neither could I.

Six months later, high school baseball was about to begin. And yes, I was out there playing!

Even now, I’m not sure why I made it through everything, but I do know how I did. I believed in myself, with a positive attitude. Because of that, I was able to stay motivated through those tough times.

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SkillsUSA Champions | Summer 2007 | Volume 41, No. 4
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