ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Twice, Tim Kelly has been in life-altering accidents.
Twice, he's learned to live his life over again.
And even though his life now isn't exactly how he planned it, Kelly refuses to let the past define him.
He just has a different kind of future.
"You've got to make do with what you have and what you've been given," he said.
That's why Kelly, once a runner and high school English teacher, today is the only wheelchair-bound member of a winning ice curling team. It's not a sport he imagined doing while growing up in Rockford, but it's a natural fit for someone paralyzed from the chest down.
In 1994, Kelly was in an accident that left him with a traumatic brain injury. He spent six months in rehabilitation, learning to feed himself, talk and walk again. He went on to surprise his family by living independently and graduating from college.
It seemed his troubles were behind him.
But Kelly had been married only five weeks in 2004 when, driving home from lunch with his bride, he swerved to miss a deer and crashed his car. The accident shattered life as he knew it: He couldn't walk, didn't have the energy to teach and got divorced.
Always an athlete, Kelly sought ways to stay active and competitive from his chair. Rockford's wheelchair basketball league is popular, but Kelly's lack of mobility in his chest makes balance for that sport tough.
Living for a time in Wisconsin, however, introduced him to curling.
"In northern Wisconsin, if you're in a wheelchair, all you have are hockey, curling, ice fishing or skiing," he said.
In curling, one player slides a heavy stone while two sweepers use special brooms to manipulate the ice in front of the stone and try to influence its movement.
Kelly's role on his team is to slide the stone. It's a precise job, and no easy task.
"Someone has to hold my wheelchair from behind because there is a shift of weight as you're pushing a 42-pound weight," he said.
Rockford doesn't have a rink designated for curling, which requires a different ice surface than hockey or figure skating. Curling ice is pebbled, not smooth, which allows the stone to vibrate on the ice and propel forward.
So without a local team to join, Kelly joined a league of curlers in Madison, Wis., and found himself the only player in a wheelchair.
"It's an able-bodied league with one guy in a wheelchair," he said.
But through that league, Kelly met and has trained under USA Wheelchair Curling coach Steve Brown. Kelly has a notebook filled with detailed suggestions and regimens offered by Brown, and he finished his first curling season with several tournament wins under his belt.
The world of curling, Kelly found, isn't where he expected to be -- but it's a place where he feels wonderfully at home.
"I like the community of it," he said. "It's a good heritage."
Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com