Clair Harrison and Helen Long are Troy University majorettes separated by decades but joined by one common thread—both are shining examples of the Trojan Warrior Spirit.
Harrison, a senior graphic design major from Gadsden, Alabama, suffered severe burns while assisting with a high school band camp in July 2016. However, she battled back from the injury to twirl once again with the Sound of the South this past fall.
When Long, who twirled in the ’70s under legendary bandmaster John M. Long, heard of Harrison’s story, she recalled her own life-changing injury that occurred in college.
“It immediately took me back to spring of 1975, stunts and tumbling class for Physical Education majors under Professor Gene Hanson,” Long said. “On the trampoline, I tried a backwards flip and landed on my head! Dr. Hanson knew something was terribly wrong and would not move me. I remember in a nanosecond it seemed like my sister, Julie, was there beside me. I look back and realize, God actually placed her there in that minute. That terrible day became even worse as I heard the doctors say ‘If Helen lives, she will be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of her life.’”
What followed was four long months of hospitalization and recovery, but despite the grim initial prognosis, Long was able to return to the field and twirl later that same year.
Inspired by the similarities in their stories, Long wanted to reach out to Harrison, and a meeting between the two was arranged during a home football game.
“When I met Helen it was such a relief to me,” Harrison said. “I always enjoy meeting someone [who] went through a similar obstacle as me; it makes me feel [understood] and not alone. When Helen told me her story I felt like we are the same person and that I have someone I can talk to about what I’m going through. She was so sweet and welcoming to me.”
Harrison’s injury occurred while conducting a fire baton demonstration at New Brockton High School.
“When I was in the ICU I honestly didn’t know what was going on because I was highly sedated,” Harrison said. “After I was removed from the ICU and taken to acute care that’s when I realized I was probably not going to be able to twirl and I started debating on what to do. However, my family kept me motivated and kept telling me that they are going to find a way to get me back out on that field.”
Long said she was immediately impressed upon meeting Harrison and hearing her story firsthand.
“My first reaction was, ‘Wow, what a beautiful young lady!’ And what a trooper she is to bounce back from a terrible accident,” Long said. “An accident (after which) most people would be afraid to twirl again, not to mention march in front of thousands of spectators only weeks after the accident.”
Looking back on her own recovery, Long said she remained focused on her dream of being a TROY majorette.
“Seriously, all I thought about every day for four long months, laying on that striker frame staring at the ceiling then the floor, ‘One day I will march with the Sound of the South band,’” Long said. “I had and still do have just a passion for the TROY band organization and my hero Dr. John Long. The Sound of the South band gave me confidence, drive, organizational skills, tolerance and patience that have followed me for the last 41 years.”
Long said she encouraged Harrison to draw strength and motivation from her accident.
“As unfortunate as the accident was, it will move and motivate you for the rest of your life,” Long said. “It will drive you to push forward in everything you do and follow your every dream, no matter how crazy that dream might be. For me, I came to realize that life can be taken away in one single moment.”
Harrison said she would encourage anyone facing an injury or obstacle to have courage and believe in themselves.
“Never tell yourself you can’t do anything, because if you think that, then you won’t accomplish anything,” Harrison said. “But if you tell yourself you can do something, then you will accomplish it. Don’t think that an injury is in the way of you doing what you love; be fearless and try it anyway.”