NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - "I rode bulls. I rode motorcycles. Education was not important to me:" said Lee Payne, SFASU Political Science Associate Professor.
Born and raised in Katy Texas, Payne found little interest in a life involving academics.
"In fact, I failed my senior year of high school and had to repeat it and graduated with 1.2 GPA."
At the age of 20, Payne's life took a tragic turn.
"A little over a year after I graduated high school, I dove into a rice well, hit the bottom and broke my neck," said Payne. "Katy, TX, was all rice fields back then and so the rice fields were our swimming pools."
Payne laid face-down in the water, unable to move and filled with fear that he would soon drown.
"I had a lot of friends with me," said Payne. "Had I been alone, I would have drown.>
Paralyzed from the waist down, Payne suffered through several years of deep depression.
"You get sick and tired of being sick and tired and that's kind of what happened to me," Payne said. "I just figured out this wasn't getting me anywhere, I may as well move on with my life and see if I can do anything with it."
At the age of 27, Nacogdoches became Payne's new home.
"I love Katy, but I had to get out Katy because, it kind of, it really depressed me because everywhere I went there were memories of where I had gone before when I was walking," Payne said.
It was through several SFA students, that he found the motivation to continue his education. This being a move that would change his life.
"It turned out that I wasn't stupid," said Payne. "I did pretty well and while I was here I had some great professors. These great individuals, and I thought, 'you know what, I think I can teach!' It doesn't take a lot of physical ability to teach."
With a dream in mind of writing political speeches for politicians, Payne graduated Magna Cum Laude from Stephen F. Austin State University. Payne says he is unlike many who suffer from a physical disability, because he decided to make a change.
"Some of them don't come out of it," said Payne. "They just, they never do. They stay home. The only way I can put it is they stay disabled."
Today Payne is back at the university where he found his true success, working as an Associate Professor of Political Science. He teaches his students, by example, the value of learning.
"The irony of my whole life is this... I wish I would have never broken my neck," said Payne. "If I could go back in time in some fancy way and find that Lee Payne on August 17th of 1986 and say don't dive in the damn rice well today, I would do it. But, I never would of done any of this had I not been injured."