NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - On graduation day every graduate shares the same anticipation. "I'm just ready to walk across the stage right now," James Collins said with a big smile on his face. Collins means that literally. He's been in a wheelchair since 2003.
"For me to persevere and go through four years of college and extra stuff is just great," Collins expressed.
Just out of the Navy, the veteran was shot in Houston. A 7 month coma followed. The shooters walked away, but Collins woke up with both legs gone. Today the 27 year old always looks forward, never back.
"I visited him when he was in the hospital and he's got tremendous courage," Paul Jackson, an uncle said after proudly snapping a photograph of his nephew.
Collins makes and achieves goals. He pledged to walk the stage with the aid of state of the art prosthetic legs. He got them just two weeks ago. "They have an on board computer. The computer is always analyzing the patient's step about 50 to 60 times per second," David Holt, a certified prosthetist explained.
That was about as fast as Collins felt his heart was beating when the moment came. Collins was rolled up the ramp in his wheelchair to the point where it was time to pick up his diploma. He then brought himself out of the chair and balanced himself on a walker. The feat surprised family members watching in the stands. It was the first time they had seen him in upright position in years. Collins chose a fraternity brother to brace him from the rear. Holt stood to the side while Collins acknowledged his diploma and then took three steps. At that point he asked for Holt to step in for reassurance. The three men then crossed the stage with loud cheers coming from the audience and faculty.
With each step Collins got stronger. The determination inspired all who watched. "Way to go man," shouted Steve McCarty, a former coach and now SFA regent. "What a great inspiration and example," another regent said with encouragement.
For Collins, this is the first step to becoming an independent walker. "I've been the lowest points. And I've been to the highest points. I"m a prime example. You can do anything you want to in life," Collins said after the ceremony.
More high points are yet to come. Collins plans to attend graduate school at SFA and later law school at SMU. His goal is to stand for his first trial. He and his girlfriend are also expecting twins in just a few months.