Rayna DuBose has a connection to Kansas University athletics that likely will last the rest of her life.
But the fact she played basketball for KU coach Bonnie Henrickson at Virginia Tech 13 years ago played no part in her recent visit to Lawrence, even if the reunion was sweet for both the coach and player.
“I had nothing to do with it,” a smiling Henrickson said following Saturday’s victory over West Virginia at Allen Fieldhouse. “Of course, I would have said that we should bring her in, but (the KU athletic department) hired her on their own, and it was so great to see her.”
DuBose, now 31, was in town as the featured speaker for the KU athletic department’s annual diversity training on the topic of overcoming disabilities. A 6-foot-3 forward on the 2001-02 Virginia Tech team, DuBose played in 13 games that season, reached double figures four times and finished her career 15-for-15 from the free-throw line. Not long after the season ended, the Columbia, Maryland, native contracted the deadly bacterial disease meningococcal meningitis, which took all four of her limbs.
With her college playing career over, DuBose chose to fight, and, instead of feeling sorry for herself, went on to try to inspire thousands of athletes across the country.
Sunday night at the Kansas Ballroom in the KU student union, DuBose spoke to hundreds of KU student-athletes, and on Monday she spent time with the athletic-department staff. Her message, which focused on determination, perseverance and gratitude, was the same to each group, and it left dozens of Jayhawks in awe.
“Rarely in middle age do you encounter someone who can change your world view,” KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger said. “And Rayna is certainly one of those exceptional people you won’t soon forget. We don’t do things like this very often, and — whew — she just ripped your eyelids off.”
Murphy Grant, KU’s assistant athletic director for sports medicine and the head of KU’s diversity committee, was responsible for bringing DuBose to Lawrence — although Grant said DuBose’s relationship with Henrickson sealed the deal — and he said her appearances were better than he could have dreamed.
“I thought it went very well,” said Grant, who believes that programs such as these are every bit as important to the education of KU’s student-athletes as anything they learn in the classroom or on the playing field. “Every single topic we wanted to cover, she covered, and she was a very impressive speaker who made it a lot of fun for everyone.”
Grant said attendance was not mandatory, and that left him overjoyed by the huge turnout. He credited KU’s coaches for their role in making the event something their student-athletes wanted to attend.
The fun did not stop with DuBose’s speaking engagements. Monday, after meeting with the Kansas Athletics staff members, DuBose joined KU sports-performance assistant AD Andrea Hudy for a quick workout. Hudy, who constantly seeks ways to motivate and inspire her athletes, found a gold mine in DuBose, and she took to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to share it.
On her personal pages, Hudy posted a photo of DuBose doing a pull-up in the weight room and added the hashtags #whatsyourexcuse and #thiswomanisastud to the end of each post.
That was not the only time social media was involved during DuBose’s visit. Grant organized a tag board, with the hashtag #oneteamKU as the focus, to track the highlights of her time with the KU athletes.
“That was pretty cool,” Grant said. “Because that’s what they do. Everyone got really involved with it, posted some funny pictures and good questions and just had a lot of fun.”