published Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Whatever happened to Austin Whitten, the teenager who became rallying point after breaking neck?

Fifteen-year-old Austin Whitten stretches before starting physical therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta in this 2012 photo. A year after the former football, basketball and baseball player from LaFayette was paralyzed when he broke his neck after jumping into a pool, he still hopes to regain his ability to walk.
Fifteen-year-old Austin Whitten stretches before starting physical therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta in this 2012 photo. A year after the former football, basketball and baseball player from LaFayette was paralyzed when he broke his neck after jumping into a pool, he still hopes to regain his ability to walk.
Photo by Staff File Photo.

Question: Whatever happened to Austin Whitten, the teenager who became a rallying point for his town after breaking his neck?

Answer: The community is still backing Austin, who will start his junior year at LaFayette High School still in a wheelchair.

It's been more than a year since the athletic LaFayette, Ga., star was told he would have a 1 percent chance of using his legs again after being injured while jumping into a pool.

After three months of therapy, his town welcomed him home on the grassy football field. Under the Friday night lights, Austin rolled onto the field, his team by his side, fans in the crowd wearing "All Together for Austin" T-shirts cheering and carrying signs of support. They eventually raised money to support his lengthy hospital and therapy visits.

These days the 16-year-old has slowed down from the whirlwind sophomore year of fundraisers, constant checkups and fanfare.

Austin's friends and teammates sometimes pick him up and his former coaches take him to dinner, but he's still lonely, said his mother, Angie.

While Austin hasn't had breakthrough progress since completing physical therapy in Atlanta, he still hasn't given up his dream of walking.

"Heck, yeah, it's still an option," he said. But rather than give himself a deadline, "we'll go by when it actually happens."

Between home health visits and learning to drive a stick shift, he and his family try to reach out in the same ways they were helped.

Austin's dad, Brian, was among the 1,100 volunteers who helped build a home last month for Spc. Andrew Smith, whose legs were blown off when he was on patrol in Afghanistan.

In response the nonprofit that organized the project to build Smith's home, Steps2Hope, is turning its attention to Austin. Next week the local Taziki's restaurant will hold a fundraiser, with the money going to build Austin's parents a carport so he can be protected from the weather as he goes between the house and vehicle.

This update was written by staff writer Joy Lukachick. Contact her at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

To suggest a topic for Whatever Happened To, email news@timesfreepress.com.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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