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February 14, 2012

Speaking from Experience

By: Jimmy Robertson

After succumbing to a life-threatening illness while in college at Tech, Rayna DuBose now is enjoying a successful career as a motivational speaker

She’s flown all over the country, given speeches in front of thousands and met many famous people in all her travels.

But she’d rather be in Blacksburg, Va., than anywhere else.

“I miss everything about this place,” former Tech women’s basketball player Rayna DuBose said. “It’s hard to say I miss one thing. I miss the people, just being here, the family feeling, the love, the warmth – I miss everything about this place!”

For the first time since graduating in 2007, DuBose returned to Blacksburg, attending both the men’s and women’s basketball games against North Carolina on Jan. 19. She came back to a campus she loves and a place where she nearly lost her life almost 10 years ago.

Most folks remember the story. In April of 2002, DuBose, then a freshman, contracted meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial disease that can result in the loss of limbs, or even worse, life. Fortunately, DuBose’s teammates, Erin Gibson and Fran Recchia, informed the women’s basketball coaching staff that DuBose felt poorly at the time, and then-assistant coach Karen Lange took DuBose to the Schiffert Health Center on campus.

DuBose passed out and woke up at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, having been air-lifted there. She spent 97 days at UVa, with 21 of those spent in a coma. While there, doctors amputated both of her hands and her feet because of the tissue damage caused by the infection.

DuBose returned to her hometown of Baltimore later in the year to rehab at Good Samaritan Hospital and to be fitted with prosthetics. She had to teach herself how to walk, eat, brush her teeth and comb her hair, but she refused to let the pain and the rehab deter her from her goals and dreams.

In the summer of 2003, she returned to Blacksburg to finish up work on her degree. In 2007, she graduated with a degree in consumer studies.

And just last summer, her doctor released her as a normal patient.

“I’m fabulous,” she said. “Never been better. Last year, at the end of the summer, my doctor released me as a normal patient. It feels so good.

“I can’t forget about what happened to me because it’s part of my everyday job to talk about what I went through and to educate people and let them know how serious that disease is.

“It’s not emotional or hard for me at all. I enjoy talking about it, especially to my friends. To this day, I find out new things that happened that I didn’t know about, or that someone came and visited me when I was down. Those are things I would never know.”

DuBose’s incredible recovery garnered her national attention. Before she returned to school, she received the Most Courageous Award from the United States Basketball Writers Association. Then in June of 2005, three years after she contracted the disease, she received the Wilma Rudolph Student-Athlete Achievement Award, which goes annually to student-athletes who have overcome major adversity in their lives to excel as students and athletes.

These days, she works as a motivational speaker, living with her parents in Baltimore and giving speeches to a wide array of groups. She’s spoken to groups as small as five people to as many as 2,000. She’s spoken to groups as varied as high school students to bankers at Wells Fargo. Her speeches last anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours. Some groups like her so much that they invite her back.

“I’m a people person, and I love to talk,” she said. “Put me in a big room full of people, and it’s like I’m back on the court again. The spotlight is on me. I enjoy that, and I like that I’m educating people at the same time.”

She tailors her message to the group. But her overriding theme is, “Winning the Game of Life,” with details that can be found on her website (

“It usually depends on the group and whatever the group wants,” DuBose said. “I never like to do the same thing twice. I like to change it up, especially with groups that have me coming back again. I like to give them something different. So I enjoy that. It’s always a challenge.”

DuBose’s return to Blacksburg coincided with the Hokie Hardwood Club’s annual auction. The Hokie Hardwood Club auctions off items each year and then gives that money to the women’s basketball program. Usually, the money gets spent for an overseas trip in the summer for exhibition games.

The Hardwood Club became involved with DuBose and her family after DuBose fell ill and raised money for her immense medical expenses. The account remains open, with people continuing to contribute to it, and the money gets sent to DuBose and her family for any needs that might arise.

“I’d like to say thanks to everyone in the Hardwood Club for their thoughts and prayers and especially for their donations,” DuBose said. “I greatly appreciate every single thing about this place. You have no idea how appreciative me and my family are of that.”

During her visit, DuBose caught up with Recchia, who is an assistant coach at Radford, and Gibson, who works as a physical therapist in the New River Valley. She also got to meet with the current women’s basketball coaching staff, and she caught up with both John Ballein, the associate AD for football operations, and head football coach Frank Beamer, who helped her get started on her career as a motivational speaker.

“Whenever he [Beamer] would go out and give his talks wherever he was, he would make sure to mention my name, if any group was looking for a speaker,” DuBose said of Beamer. “I’ve gotten so many speaking engagements because of him. It’s like, ‘Oh, I heard Coach Beamer speak and he speaks very highly of you.’ So I can’t be more thankful to have such a great person in my life to help me.”

DuBose spent two nights in Blacksburg before heading back home and getting ready for the next trip and the next speech. Rest assured, though, she won’t take five years to get back to a place that means so much to her.

“I wouldn’t mind coming back here to live,” she said. “Not at all. I had a great time here.”