By Kate Thurston Rushville Republican
---- — A tragic car accident changed a Rushville woman’s life drastically. The outcome would give her a new outlook on her future and has allowed her to be an inspiration to many lives.
Darcy (Wilkinson) Keith grew up in Rushville and doesn’t regret growing up in a small town.
“Growing up in a small town really shaped the person I am today,” Keith said. “You know everyone in a small town; it’s more of a community. I live in Bishop now and it’s so different. There are so many more things to do and so many people. They live in a different time and way it seems like. Things are a lot more challenging in a large city. I wouldn’t trade my small town experience for anything, it was wonderful.”
In high school, Keith was a jack-of-all-trades.
“I did many academic activities in high school,” Keith said. “I was in band, swimming, gymnastics, I was in several clubs and I was an exchange student and went to Japan. My senior class voted me as most talented, I guess because I did so many activities,” Keith laughed.
Until 1991, Keith’s life was going well. Keith began to study actuarial science at Ball State University in Muncie. One night changed everything.
Keith was on her way back to campus with four sorority sisters from a function at Morehead State University in Kentucky. In the blink of an eye, their vehicle was hit broadside by a semi truck. Keith, whom was sitting in the backseat, suffered a tragic head injury. Her two sorority sisters beside her were killed instantly. Keith had a long journey recovering and faced memory loss, paralysis and a traumatic brain injury.
“One of my sorority sisters broke her neck and the other was crushed,” Keith said. “Although I suffered from a brain injury, I am thankful. I was life-lined from the scene. The paramedic thought that I had died on the ride to the hospital. I was in a coma.”
Keith had severe memory loss from the accident.
“After the accident, I didn’t go back to school for about a year and a half. I had no memory at all of what I had majored in. I had to start all over. It felt like I had ADD, I couldn’t concentrate on what people were saying. I had to re-learn so much like walking; it was a physical and mental challenge. I started an internship with a company I had interned with before my accident. Things started to slowly come back to mind. I kind of picked up things I had forgotten. After college, the company State Auto Insurance hired me full time and I have been there 17 years now.”
Keith started doing motivational speaking in 1995.
“I found that there was not much education on brain injuries,” Keith said. “I was treated differently and that didn’t set well with me at all. I ended up recovering well and I am so blessed. I wanted people to know if they had a brain injury they can recovery with the right diagnosis and right medical attention. Some people won’t recover, but we all share a lot of common ground. I wanted to teach people about this. Hope is the big thing; it will change your life.”
Darcy has been recognized internationally for her speaking by being selected by ThinkFirst chapters nationally and around the world as the 2006 National ThinkFirst VIP Speaker of the Year, recognized as an Indiana Hero by the Indiana Pacers basketball team, and was selected as a 2000 Ball State University Graduate of the Last Decade, among other honors listed on this website. Darcy is an accomplished speaker and has obtained her Competent Toastmaster (CTM) designation, as well as serving as a charter member of Toastmaster’s Talking Heads Club #761. She is also a CLASS graduate (Christian Leaders Authors Speakers Seminar), studying under Florence Litthauer, CSP, CPAE, world-renowned Christian speaker, and attended Christian speaker Carol Kent’s “Speak Up with Confidence” speech clinic at the Wesleyan Women’s Ministry Summit.
Keith has also spoken for the Baltimore Ravens, Department of Defense Finance and Accounting Service, Toastmasters International Convention, Indiana University School of Nursing at IUPUI, Indianapolis Colts and so many more. Her story has traveled across the nation and has touched many.
“I’m an NFL Rookie Success Program speaker, presenting the ‘Traffic Education and Decision Making’ module for this program,” Keith said. “I had the privilege to speak to the 2011 Baltimore Ravens and the 2012 Indianapolis Colts rookies.”
Keith has worked with the Indianapolis Neurosurgical Group since 1994. Through the international program, ThinkFirst, she makes many classroom presentations about her recovery has touched thousands of students by sharing how her life changing story. Her journey has led her to meeting so many people, including some that are quite famous.
”Last April, Gloria Gaynor’s ‘people’ contacted me regarding her upcoming new book, We Will Survive (released Dec. 1, 2013). They wanted to include my story in it. You can imagine how excited I was,” Keith exclaimed. “So, I submitted my story, and it is the fourth (out of 40) inspirational stories in the book. Last October, I was blessed to have a private meeting with her before her concert at the Palladium, The Center for Performing Arts, in Carmel.” Gaynor is the singer of the disco hit, “I will survive.”
Keith encourages those who have been faced with brain injuries to never give up hope.
“Don’t lose hope. They think there is no end in sight, but you will never know what will happen or how you will be blessed. Some things we can control and some we can’t, so we need to take control of the things that we can. I learned from my injury to keep going and go on no matter what. Things happen over time and you can see it. Do your best and keep trying. Don’t lose sight or hope.”
Keith lives in Fishers now with her husband and their 10-year-old daughter Olivia, recently crowned Young Miss Indianapolis.
“My daughter is amazing,” Keith said. “She is Young Miss Indianapolis and I am Classic Ms. Indianapolis. We did the pageant together and it has been a great experience. We have bonded so much during this. It is wonderful. My husband is also wonderful, he is so supportive of all I do and we have a great, healthy marriage. We really complement each other. Life is great.”