Posted 2 years ago
By John Axtell
The Sheridan County Players open their latest production…And They Dance Real Slow in Jackson…Friday night (Jan 18) at the Plains Theater in Rushville. Curtain times are 7:30 Friday and Saturday nights this week and next, and 2 pm on Sundays the 20th and 27th. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.
The play…which tells the story of Elizabeth Willow, a young girl struggling with being cripple at birth and confined to a wheelchair…may hit too close to home for some in the audience because in many ways it’s the real-life story of the actress portraying her.
22-year old Courtney Milburn has been confined to a wheelchair herself with no fine motor skills for the past 17 months, the result of a car accident as she was preparing for her senior year at Chadron State in August 2011.
A passenger, Milburn suffered a burst cervical vertebrae and bruised spinal cord that required delicate surgery in Denver. Four days after arriving in the hospital and while in an induced coma to help her recovery from the surgery, she suffered a pulmonary embolism…a blockage of the main artery of the lung that left her life in the balance for 45-minutes.
She remained in Denver hospitals for treatment and rehabilitation for 5 months before returning home, but her recovery since then has been very slow and limited. She admits to being in a period of depression until her younger sister Lindsey…now a student at Wayne State…kept reminding her of the stubborness they shared and how she would never give up when faced with challenges in the past.
Milburn says she decided she wasn’t going to let her injuries keep her from the things she loves, such as acting…which had seen her perform at Gordon-Rushville High School and with the Sheridan County Players in such shows at Jesus Christ, Superstar.
It was that connection that led Dance Real Slow director Candie Johnson…who had directed Milburn in past shows…to immediately think of her after reading the script for the first time.
Johnson liked the emotion Milburn could bring to the part because of the wheelchair, and liked the fact it would “get her out of the house and give her something to look forward to.”
Milburn jumped at the idea as soon as she read the script, calling the play “really powerful” with a different perspective on those with disabilities. She says the production has also given her a way to reconnect with others and let everyone know that she’s still fighting and still the person she was before the accident.
Milburn has continued to delay her final year at Chadron State while her recovery continues, but she’s helping research an anti-bullying program for grade school and middle school students…not that far removed from her studies to become a drug and alcohol counselor.
As for whether the wheelchair will be part of her life from now on, she doesn’t know because doctors tell her it’s hard to predict recovery from a bruised spinal cord. What she does know is that she plans to remain positive, continue her physical therapy, and move forward with her life…whatever directions it takes.