ROCKINGHAM — Three wheels are faster than two legs, but for Kandace Frye, crossing the finish line was all that mattered.
Less than five months after a car crash left her paralyzed, the 22-year-old Richmond County native completed her second Cordova 5K on a hand-powered bike. Supporters clad in green “Pray for Kandace” T-shirts cheered on Saturday as she passed the timing station beside Cordova Elementary School.
“I was excited — a little nervous to start with,” Frye said, “but once I got going, I was fine. It showed me that you’re capable of doing anything if you set your mind to it.”
Frye completed the race in about 19 minutes, 40 seconds, leading all finishers in the third annual Cordova 5K. She ran the 3.1-mile course in 2013 — her first-ever 5K race — and finished in about 28 minutes.
“She has a lot of support,” said Walt Wood, a friend who high-fived her at the finish line. “She beat her time by 8 minutes. That’s how awesome she is.”
The experience left Frye with sore arms and a soaring spirit.
“I was using my arms more than my legs this time,” she said. “ I’ll be hurting tonight, I’ll tell you that. I enjoyed it though, I really did. I actually felt really alive.”
Frye was hospitalized for more than a month after she lost the use of her legs in a Jan. 10 crash. Family members say her determination and positive attitude allowed her to adapt quickly.
“I went to see her in Chapel Hill,” recalled Frye’s grandmother, Selma Lewis. “She was laying in the bed smiling, and I thought, ‘Girl, how can you smile?’ She told her granddaddy. She said, ‘Papa, don’t worry about me. I’m going to walk again.’”
While she prays for a full recovery, Frye is focused on showing herself and her loved ones that the disability won’t slow her down. She recently completed physical therapy and attended a hand-cycling clinic to prepare for the race.
A friend loaned her the Top End Force handcycle, a racing model that sells for about $4,000.
“I wanted to keep on doing something,” Frye said. “I wanted to stay active. I hope to continue in this — make it a sport. I’ll have to start practicing and see where it takes me.”
Frye’s accustomed to an active, athletic lifestyle. The 2010 Richmond County High School graduate played softball and basketball for the Raiders and worked at the FirstHealth Fitness Center near Richmond Memorial Hospital while attending community college.
“We’re very proud of her,” said Kim Covington, the fitness center’s manager. “Not many people could go through what she’s been through and still have the composure that she’s had.”
Covington joined Frye’s family and friends to cheer her on at Saturday’s race.
“She was a wonderful employee for the same reasons she does well here,” Covington said. “She’s a very hard worker. She’s been an inspiration to our employees at the fitness center.”
Frye draws her determination from a favorite Bible verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The chapter and verse — Phillippians 4:13 — is printed prominently on the green “Pray for Kandace” T-shirts that greeted her at the finish line.
“That’s like my motivation,” she said. “People send me encouraging text messages — I got several this morning before I got out here. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Frye previously attended Richmond Community College in Rockingham and Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst. She plans to go back to school and said she may enroll in some classes at RCC.
“I want to go back to school, get independent again and start doing my own thing,” she said. “I want to see where it takes me. I’ll take it one step at a time. That’s all I can really do.”
Family members said Frye’s motivation is a source of pride and hope.
“She’s a fighter,” Lewis said of her granddaughter. “She said she’s going to walk again. She’s going back to school. I really admire her.”
Frye’s family hopes to root for her in a future Cordova 5K when she crosses the finish line in running shoes once again.
“We’re praying for a miracle,” Lewis said. “It may not be this year, it may be a couple years, but we feel the Lord is going to heal her. Not in our time, but in His time.”
Frye wasn’t the only Cordova 5K competitor to power herself through the race with arms instead of legs. Brian Freeman of Rockingham completed his first 5K in a wheelchair Saturday morning.
A military veteran who also was paralyzed in a car crash, Freeman said he finished the race for his 8-year-old daughter, Katie, who greeted him with a smile and hug at the finish line. Freeman said he wants to show people that physical limitations are obstacles that can be overcome with motivation and hard work.
“I compete in ju-jitsu tournaments against able-bodied people, non-disabled people,” he said. “ I’ve got this little one right here to set a good example for.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-997-3111, ext. 13.