Stephanie Usry didn’t get elected president of the Central High student body by standing on the sidelines. She didn’t become SkillsUSA’s national high school president by hanging around, either. She likes to say she stepped into the arena.
The Cheyenne, Wyo., teen is no stranger to being involved. An avid athlete when younger, Usry faced a personal crisis during her freshman year of high school. She was forced to stop all participation in sports after a series of injuries put her on the sidelines.
“In eighth grade, I was doing track and learning how to triple jump,” she explains. “The first day of field event practice, I was really getting along well just practicing the steps, so my coach decided I should do a real jump. I went back for the approach and when I began the jump, my right knee buckled. The sound of my ligaments ripping was horrific.
“A week later, the doctor told me I had torn my ACL [anti-cruciate ligament]. Surgery was necessary, and I was incapable of doing anything rigorously athletic for six months.”
Still, Usry says she healed well and was able to bounce back relatively quickly. By her freshman year, she was back to her sporting ways. Unfortunately, her return to competitive sports was short lived.
“During basketball season of my freshman year, my left ACL tore during the first week of practice,” she says. This put Usry out of commission again, but instead of recovering as long as she should have, she jumped back in and signed up for track. This made the injury worse than before.
“The rugged terrain we crossed during distance workouts stretched the ligament so that it was no longer tight enough to stabilize my knee. Of course, by not allowing the injury proper time to heal, I reinjured it,” she adds.
Usry had a third surgery that summer and waited seven months before trying to return to athletics. She was so determined to heal that she even missed her favorite sport: volleyball. Basketball season started and Usry was ready to play, but during a scrimmage game she injured her leg again — this time, her medial collateral ligament (MCL) and medial meniscus. Her doctor gave her a choice: Keep playing sports, or still be able to walk by the time she turned 30.
“I chose the latter,” she says simply.
That choice left a sizeable gap in her social life. She essentially lost all her friends and was forced to step into a new arena.
Finding a new team
“My sophomore year, I took Computer Aided Drafting (CAD). This was a little step, a little poke at the fire,” Usry says.
One day her teacher, Brian Stevenson, mentioned that Usry seemed to be lacking the enthusiasm she had displayed when playing sports. “I don’t know what happened to it, but I know something that can bring it back,” he said. That was how she got introduced to SkillsUSA.
“There are two primary choices in life,” Usry now says, “to accept situations as they exist, or to accept the responsibility to change them.”
Taking a small step eventually helped Usry develop a new passion. Involvement in SkillsUSA programs and activities provided a new team, she says, and helped her regain that enthusiasm.
“It’s a great feeling to have that community,” she adds.
No longer on the sidelines
In June of 2005, Usry gained the opportunity to share her passion for SkillsUSA across the United States by running for — and winning — a national officer position.
She explains her desire to be a national officer this way: “I had met many of the previous national officers, and they were just so inspiring. You could tell they had a great effect on people, and I wanted to be able to do that. I wanted to go and be able to touch people’s lives all over this nation.”
No longer on the sidelines, but smack-dab in the middle of the arena, she visited the nation’s capital in September of 2005 during SkillsUSA’s Washington Leadership Training Institute. Her drive and passion led her to Capitol Hill.
Already interested in politics, Usry had the chance to sit down with the senators from her state and speak on behalf of career and technical education. Particularly significant was her meeting with Sen. Michael Enzi, chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, which oversees the reauthorization of Perkins legislation. “My visit with Senator Enzi heightened my already profound interest in becoming a national legislator,” Usry says. “Senator Enzi is a huge supporter of career and technical education. I think our visit gave him one more reason to continue supporting it.
“Talk about awesome opportunities.”