Alan Huneycutt, former Western Carolina University student, is ready to run in an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After being told he may never walk again, Huneycutt will sprint through the beauty of Hawaii during the XTERRA World Championship Race for Team to End AIDS on Nov. 24.
On March 25, 2012, Huneycutt drove to workout at WCU’s Campus Recreation Center with his friend Stephanie Deese. Driving down Speedwell Road, a precarious twist of pavement next to WCU’s campus, Huneycutt overcorrected, and the vehicle ran off the left side of the steep hill. The car hit a tree in midair, and Deese was killed on impact. Huneycutt was rushed to Mission Hospital in Asheville. His parents and doctors never thought he would make it.
Over a year later, Huneycutt is taking life by storm and making the most of his second chance.
According to Huneycutt, he found out about the XTERRA World Championship Race due to his participation in 5K races in Charlotte, where he now lives. Qualification races occurred at the Whitewater Center.
“When I found out about Manning Up and got involved with them, they had already decided to do that [race],” said Huneycutt.
According to their website, Manning Up is a program started by Jeremy B. Manning that focuses on improving one’s life through exercise and healthy living.
“It’s a group of people that all overcame adversity through using fitness as a recovery method,” said Huneycutt. “Jeremy Manning, CEO, just asked me to be a part of [the team] with them.”
Huneycutt is excited to be a part of the seven-man team, which is based in Los Angeles, because it promotes the non-profit group Team to End AIDS.
“I want to help people, and I’d love to use something that I love to do to help do that,” said Huneycutt.
Team to End AIDS benefits AIDS Project Los Angeles, referred to as APLA. The organization began in 1982 and is celebrating its 30th birthday, according to its main website. Recently, APLA is assisting homosexual males “by implementing STD screening and treatment at the APLA Health & Wellness Center,” stated on the website. The Center provides several other services like HIV prevention and activities for the communities members in the Los Angeles area.
Huneycutt needs to raise $5,000 dollars for the Team to End AIDS organization. The entire team’s goal is to raise $25,000. As of the last week of September, Huneycutt has raised $790 so far. He has a long way to go, but failure is not his strong suit.
The extent of Huneycutt’s injuries from the Speedwall car accident was life-threatening and damaging. He suffered from multiple spinal fractures and two vertebrae that had moved from the spinal track and stuck behind other vertebrae, he said.
“They had to do a bone graph as well as the pins and rods to set it back in place. [A bone graph] is where they take bone from somewhere else from your body. I’m not sure how they fuse it to you, but it helps the rest of the bones heal. They took it from my right hip,” said Huneycutt. “Then, I had a broken rib, contusions on my lungs, facial lacerations and smaller lacerations on my arms and such.”
His survival, according to his physician, was a miracle.
“[The doctor] came in, I think I was still in ICU, he said it was such a force from the hit that you have to take that usually people don’t survive it,” said Huneycutt. “Then, I wasn’t really thinking about me or my injuries. I still haven’t grasped how bad they were to this day, I think. I had tons of vertebrae with fractures all the way up my neck. I wasn’t thinking about that then. I was more focused on other things.”
Given a second chance, Huneycutt threw himself in his therapy, eager to regain the use of his legs and return to a more normal life.
“As soon as I had surgery, the next day I was doing hospital therapy for the last two or three, four days that I was in the hospital. They had me doing therapy with a physical therapist, and then when I came home, there was a guy coming two to three times a week to walk with me,” said Huneycutt. “By the time I got to my cane, I was able to move to outpatient therapy, and it was more focused on building the muscles back up in my legs, stretching them out from where they had gotten so tight . . . because I had to lay on my back for a week.
“When you’re in that much pain,” he added, “you just really lay there. I was tired all the time because in the hospital they wake you up every so often to take blood or give you medicine. Times flies by a lot faster than you would think, but it was still pretty hard.”
Strong and healthy again, the accident still lingers with Huneycutt.
“The more I’ve talked about it, the easier gets, definitely,” he said. “Emotionally, I’m definitely a lot more focused on living each day to the fullest, trying stuff I want to try and not putting it off until later in life, as most people do. That’s one thing that really excited me about doing this run.”
Western Carolina faculty and staff members helped in Huneycutt’s recovery due to their never slacking support.
“[Mimi Fenton] and Brian Boyer were the two people from the school that weren’t just my friends. They came up to see me. They definitely helped in my recovery. Feeling their support and the support from everybody, it made it a lot easier,” said Huneycutt.
Huneycutt has not only changed emotionally and mentally, but his body has physically changed with running in several races and working out on a regular basis.
“It’s still an ongoing process,” said Huneycutt about his training for the world race, “with the physical things I’m trying to go through. . . I need to get more on the trails because I usually just run on the road, and it’s a completely different monster. I lift weights four to five days a week, and usually from there I’ll run. The past couple of weeks, I haven’t been able to, but I’ve been swimming a lot to make up for it.”
He added, “Right now, I guess this is the first kind of training I’ve been doing, so I don’t know what kind of advice I would give anybody. Push yourself but don’t push yourself past the point of harming yourself because that’s just going to set you back even further from your goal.”
The world race will be held at a resort in Hawaii, and Huneycutt is looking forward to the trip as he has never been to the island state.
“I know the race is on Sunday, so I’ll have two days after that to just hang out, which will be really cool. [I’ll] find stuff to do,” he said.
These days, when he is not running through the streets of Charlotte or working out at Gold’s Gym, Huneycutt studies at UNC-Charlotte.
“I was going to try to continue my engineering degree, but I really didn’t feel like that was for me since my whole focus life now is to help people and especially trying to use my story to do so,” said Huneycutt. “This semester, I decided to pursue a degree in sociology. There’s so many things you can do, but one of the things that stuck out to me is working with non-profit organizations, being able to manage them.”
In September, Huneycutt traveled back to Western Carolina, and he felt immediately back at home.
“I really didn’t realize how much I missed it until I was there,” Huneycutt said about his recent visit to campus. “Everything seems so much simpler versus in Charlotte where everyone’s always in a hurry, always have something to do.”
Huneycutt still has several weeks left to reach his goal in raising money for the cause. To help Huneycutt raise $5000, go to the website at http://apla.convio.net/site/TR/Events/T2EA-LAMarathon?px=1666239&pg=personal&fr_id=1240 and donate directly to Huneycutt.
For more information on Manning Up, visit http://manningupusa.com/. For more information on Team to End Aids, check out http://www.t2ea.com/.