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Mom Is the Inspiration for Stewart

Shana Stewart never takes for granted how high she jumps, how fast she runs or how far she throws a softball.

That’s because of the influence of her mother, Judy, who broke her back in an automobile accident more than 20 years ago, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

Through rehabilitation and experimentation, Judy started to take small steps with the help of computers and electrical stimulation. Then she stopped because she faced a choice: Focus all of her energy on her family or on trying to walk.

“I’d love to walk again,” she said, “but I’d rather have my kids.”

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Shana was born in 1985, five years after the accident, and what a daughter she has become. She has a 3.8 grade-point average, has been a starter for the volleyball, basketball and softball teams at Palm Desert High and is a black belt in karate.

“She’s so athletic and an incredible three-point shooter,” girls’ basketball Coach Jim Serven said. “She’s everything you can ask for.”

During any competition, whether the opponent is good or bad, butterflies come alive in Shana’s stomach, a sign of her devotion to sports.

“I just love being involved,” she said. “The intensity is great.”

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Shana and Judy have an especially close mother-daughter relationship. Her mother comes to practices and games. They talk about anything and everything.

“I can’t believe four years [of high school] have gone by,” Judy said. “I told her, ‘Why don’t you try flunking. I’m not ready for you to leave.’ ”

From the earliest days, it was Judy helping Shana in sports. She was the one catching balls in the front yard and forcing Shana to be accurate with her throws.

“She wasn’t going to go after it if I overthrew her,” Shana said.

Judy was the one offering advice on the family couch about Shana’s shooting touch.

“I’d shoot it up in the air and she’d say, ‘Get more spin on the ball,’ ” Shana said.

Judy was married with two young children living in Orange County when a car driven by her sister went of control and flipped on a foggy night. Judy’s back was broken, paralyzing her. She tried for several years to get back on her feet.

“I just gave up walking because I didn’t want to stress the kids anymore with being obsessed with walking,” she said. “The older ones had been through it. I thought I couldn’t be dragging them around.”

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Judy made the decision with her husband, Steve, and devoted herself to being the best mother she could, reminding each of her four children, “You have to appreciate life one day at a time because you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

Shana’s appreciation for sports is demonstrated by her sacrifices for the sake of excellence. During the summer, there were days she went from basketball practice in the morning, to volleyball and softball workouts in the evening. Being a three-sport athlete required plenty of self-confidence.

“I had teachers telling me I should focus on one sport,” she said. “I had family members telling me, ‘You shouldn’t be doing all those things.’ I had friends telling me, ‘Let’s go to a movie tonight,’ and I couldn’t. I had to get up at 4 a.m. to drive to Los Angeles for softball.

“My mom said, ‘No one’s going to get you to college but yourself. The harder you try to succeed and more time you put in, you will succeed.’ ”

Basketball has become Shana’s best sport. The 5-foot-9 senior is averaging 17.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 5.9 steals and has made 57 three-pointers for a team that’s 19-7 overall and shared the Desert Valley League championship with La Quinta.

After the basketball playoffs, she’ll start for the fourth consecutive season at catcher for the softball team. Then she’ll be off to college, where she hopes to become a doctor.

“It’s going to be amazing when the year is finally over,” she said. “It does seem like yesterday I was a freshman.”

Her mother has been her biggest fan and supporter. While some teenagers might feel embarrassed when a parent hangs around at school or practice, Shana isn’t. It has been that way seemingly forever.

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“When I was smaller, some kids couldn’t understand about my mom in a wheelchair. ‘Aren’t you embarrassed of your mom?’ Stuff like that never crossed my mind. I was always proud to say, ‘That’s my mom.’ ”

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Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.


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