When Alex Otte was standing in line with about 100 other fans waiting in line hoping to get an autograph from Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari during his summer camp, a man she did not know asked her what happened that caused her to have a prosthetic leg. That’s when the 14-year-old Lexington girl explained she was hit by a drunken boater while sitting on a jet ski during the summer of 2010.
That’s when UK¿football strength and conditioning coach Ray “Rock” Oliver told Otte who he was.
“He explained that it wasn’t the prosthetic leg that caught his attention, but rather Alex’s infectious smile,” said Laura Otte, Alex’s mother. “He asked Alex if she would be willing to speak to the UK football team on overcoming adversity.”
That’s a subject she certainly understands because her injuries were so serious that even her mother and father, who helped get her out of the water and waited for an ambulance to arrive at Herrington Lake, weren’t sure she would survive the air lift to St. Joseph Hospital in Lexington.
But Alex Otte did survive. She was befriended by former UK basketball player Josh Harrellson and has told her remarkable story to church groups and even the Ohio UK¿Convention. Last week she shared her message with the Kentucky football team thanks to Oliver’s invitation.
“Alex spoke briefly to the football team on making the most of what you been given. She went on to say that feeling sorry for yourself does no one any good and we all have bad days. To remember that on days that we honestly don’t feel like getting out of the bed, to just remember things can always get worse. In a matter of seconds things can always get worse, changing your life forever,” Laura Otte said.
Coach Joker Phillips and Oliver invited Alex and her family back to hear the inspirational story of Harold Dennis, a former UK football player and survivor of a horrific 1988 Carrollton bus crash. Dennis talked about the emotional and physical challenges he had to overcome.
“Not only was his message emotional and uplifting, it was in many ways very healing for Alex’s mom,” Laura Otte said. “Not the intent of the coaching staff, but a unique gift to me just the same.”
However, Alex Otte had the same impact on the football team and her talk touched various players and made many wipe away tears. One who was particularly moved was sophomore receiver Brian Adams.
Adams missed his high school senior season with a separated shoulder but still signed with UK. After getting to campus in the summer, he noticed his right arm was swollen in early July. He had a clot in his biceps and was told by doctors at home that taking blood thinners just solve the problem. Kentucky football trainer Jim Madaleno thought it might be thoracic outlet syndrome and advised him to see a surgeon before coming back to Lexington.
Before Adams saw a specialist, his back became so painful he could barely walk. Finally a CAT scan showed he had clots in his lungs and his subclavian vein. He had to have his first rib removed to open the vein and stayed on blood thinners for six months. That forced him to miss his first football season, but did save his life.
Yet Otte’s talk hit home with Adams for an even different reason.
“It struck me really hard because I live on a lake down in Georgia. It just kind of brought a mental image of myself. I sit on a jet ski, my sister sits on a jet ski, me and my dad put the boat in (the water),” Adams said. “It is the same exact situation as with Alex. I can picture what happened in my head and it is terrible to see that.
“It is really a blessing she is alive. I don’t know how she even survived that. The boat prop going over her ... we have hit a 2x4 (board) before and it shattered into a 1,000 pieces. It’s really inspiring to see how far she has come. She’s a great girl and seems like she is very strong in her faith. That’s awesome. She’s so positive, but it just goes to show that life can change any minute and you should enjoy every second of it.”
Laura Otte says several players stopped her daughter and herself to tell how they were touched by the story.
“It is real. It is one of those things that you do not hear every day and it is one of those things where she is a 14-year-old girl that got run over by a boat on her jet ski,” Adams said. “It’s not one of those things you hear about. You hate to see it happen to someone so young, not that you want it to happen to anybody. To see her turn around and come back from all that so strong and how she talked in front of all of us. She talked better in front of the group than I¿can talk in front of the group, so it was real inspiring and we enjoyed having her come out.”
Adams said it helped make him realize even more how fortunate he was to survive his own health crisis and also be able to play two sports — he starts in the outfield for the UK¿baseball team — in the Southeastern Conference.
“It is one of those things I have to realize I¿have to take advantage of. Look at the situation we were talking about with the young girl earlier. She gets her leg taken off. That is something that could happen to me. It is one of those things I¿am blessed to play two sports.¿It could change any moment, but right now I¿am going to enjoy it and her story made me understand that even more,” Adams said.
Laura Otte was surprised at how well her daughter did talking to the football team and coaches.
“Alex did not have anything prepared when she stood in front of 150 players and told of her journey this past year. I truly think that is what touches people the most is that she speaks from the heart,” Laura Otte said. “I can’t believe the grace and kindness in which she has handled all of this. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you’re a 14-year-old girl who gets followed by individuals such as Joker Phillips and Josh Harrellson on Twitter. Alex has always been very mature for her age and I believe that through all of this that has only been accelerated.
“I was very surprised by many of the player’s reaction to her story. Maybe it was in the delivery of not placing blame but reiterating that life can change on a dime and never take what you have been given for granted. Players like LaRod King and Brian Adams said that they couldn’t imagine how they would have handled something like this at her age and how appreciative they were that she had shared her story.
Many of the players approached her to take the time to introduce themselves and let her know of their appreciation and support.”
Laura Otte says the way UK basketball players Patrick Patterson, Perry Stevenson and Harrellson befriended her daughter along with UK¿golfer Alex Volpenhein had already impressed her, and the football team’s reception only added to her respect for Kentucky athletes.
“The University of Kentucky is making not only to attempt to teach athletes to make right choices, but they also foster an environment that encourages integrity, compassion and excellence. It was a privilege to witness these efforts to encourage these young men to rise to their fullest potential, not just when in uniform, but in their interaction with each other as well as in the community,” Laura Otte said.
“You can’t imagine the pride that I feel when I watch her not only speak of the accident and the past year, but also interact with these young men. It’s hard for me not to be emotional when I think of what the outcome could have been and how blessed I am to be watching her encourage others to make wise choices. She makes me want to strive to be a better person, and most certainly a better mom.”
She says it’s hard to explain what was going through her mind as she watched her daughter speak to the football team.
“You ask me what my thoughts were, but honestly I was just hoping my heart wouldn’t explode with pride. I know I could not have handled this the way she has. Just saying that reminds me that I haven’t handled this the way she has and I wasn’t the one who lost a leg,” Laura Otte said.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times