By Lucas Barlow
Brynne Stockman understands the challenges softball can bring. The Hutchinson Community College freshman works with the pressure that comes with pitching, and she knows how difficult it is to hit a softball safely among nine opponents.
Stockman, however, has been well-trained off the field in how to handle life’s biggest challenges, as she’s watched her mother struggle with serious injuries due to a horrific car crash that left her with many life-long injuries.
Although Mija Stockman manages the disabilities everyday, she doesn’t let it get the better of her. The strength and determination that Mija Stockman shows motivates many people – there’s a popular Facebook page that regularly updates Mija’s progress – including Brynne, who uses that motivation to be the best person she possibly can be everyday.
The morning of December 20, 2013 was the day that the Stockman family’s lives changed forever. While Mija Stockman was traveling from Lindsborg to McPherson for work as a teacher, she was struck by another car, whose driver was drunk.
Mija was immediately taken to the McPherson hospital, but was quickly transported to Via Christi in Wichita. After she was stable enough, Mija was flown to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. Due to severe brain trauma, she was in a coma for many months. Her right eye also had to be sewn shut from the force of the impact and her left eye with limited vision.
Seven months after the initial accident, Mija became healthy enough to return to Kansas. She was transferred to Meadowbrook Rehabilitation Hospital in Gardner, a Kansas City suburb. There, she learned how to walk, eat and drink by herself, but at a slow and steady pace.
“It’s affected our family tremendously,” Brynne Stockman said. “It’s also very hard as a daughter seeing your mom in that condition and not having her around the house throughout my high school years, but I always knew that she was in good hands.”
On April 26, 2016, Mija’s stay in Gardner was complete and she moved to Overland Park to live with her parents. Mija goes to therapy three times a week and does many activities to help, including therapeutic horse riding and volunteering in first grade classrooms.
“It has made my sisters and I much closer, as well as my grandma. I love seeing my mom’s progress and it makes me so happy to see how hard she works to be able to be here with all of us,” Brynne said.
Mija’s crash also influenced Kansas to pass what is known as “Mija’s Law.” First introduced by Kansas Representative Les Mason, it makes the sentences tougher for drunk drivers that cause permanent damage to another person by allowing previous DUI convictions to be considered in sentencing. In Mija’s case, the driver had two previous DUIs. On February 26, 2015, the Kansas House of Representatives passed the bill unanimously, along with the Senate, a month later.
Along with the brain injury, vision loss, and a broken leg, Mija also suffered a mini stroke, which affected the left side of her body and makes it hard to move. In addition, she’s had 10 different surgeries, for various issues, as well. Living far from Brynne means not being at many of her softball games, but she has been to a few as the season continues.
It’s been hard for the Stockman family for the past few years, but Mija’s story is remarkable. Through all of this, Brynne said her mom is still a happy person that doesn’t lose faith.
Brynne said softball has always been her favorite sport, coming from a family with it in their blood, as her older sister, Eryn, played for Emporia State.
“Softball has been my favorite sport my whole life, and ever since my mom’s accident, I have always been motivated to try my hardest in everything that I do,” Brynne said. “It makes me so sad knowing my mom isn’t able to do a lot of the things that she used to be able to do, so I do my best in honor of her. I want to make my mom proud, and I want to tell her about all of the good things I am doing in life instead of just reminiscing on the past and not moving forward.”