ATLANTA - Tanisha Harris is a force of life. At 26, she knows exactly what she wants. And what she wants is to walk again.
"It's a mind game,” she says. “If your mind is not set in a positive direction, you gain nothing."
The Gwinnett County mother of two spends hours each week at Project Walk Atlanta in Alpharetta, working hard with clinical exercise physiologist and program director Tony Davenport.
"Tanisha is a motivated person,” says Davenport. “She's someone I love to work with because she's no nonsense. You come in. Let's get started. What are we doing next?"
And, "What's next?" has been Tanisha's motto since August 25, 2015.
At the time, she was on top of the world, raising a young son and daughter, a budding model.
Harris had just landed a job that day, so she and her cousin went out to buy an outfit.
They were pulling out onto a road, her cousin behind the wheel, when they were hit.
"I just remember turning and then I blanked out,” Tanisha says.
Their car was slammed hard from behind.
"I don't remember the hit,” says Tanisha. “I don't remember saying anything. I woke up when I was in the ambulance."
In the impact, Tanisha Harris broke her neck, suffering a C6 cervical spinal cord injury.
"From here down, I was numb,” she says, gesturing at her neck.
Surgeons fused 3 vertebrae in Tanisha's neck to stabilize her spine and she spent months in the hospital, having to re-learn everything she lost the wreck.
Tanisha had one saving grace: although her spinal cord was badly bruised, it wasn't severed. They call this an “incomplete” spinal cord injury. It means there is a chance she may recover.
"I couldn't think about it being frightening,” she says. “I had to think about it as how I'm going to come back from this, how am I going to regain everything that I once had?"
After a stay at Shepherd Center, Tanisha wanted to keep pushing herself, to see how far she could take her recovery.
So, in May of 2016, she joined Project Walk Atlanta, which offers intense exercise-based recovery programs, education, and support to improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries.
"She was kind of, at that point, skeptical of what we could do, as most folks are and have the right to be,” says Davenport. “But then she saw the value in what we were doing."
Soon, Tanisha and Tony were making progress.
Together they’re working to strengthening her core muscles, improve her balance, and build up her endurance. Very gradually, Tanisha has been relearning how to stand up, first with Davenport's help, now on her own.
The goal is to stimulate millions of neural pathways her brain uses to tell her muscles to move, to stand, to walk.
Outside the gym, she says, it’s been hard to get used to using a wheelchair.
"People do stare. Stare uncontrollably. Stare for no reason,” Tanisha says. “It hurts my son the most, when people stare at me. He gets upset."
Tanisha reminds her son strangers don't know how far she's come, or what she's capable of.
"It takes a lot of courage, it takes a lot of faith,” she says. “It takes a lot of dedication, but I've got it. I've survived."
And Tanisha Harris isn't just here to survive. She wants to walk again.
"She has the determination. I feel she has the goods to do it,” says Tony Davenport.
Tanisha Harris says she used to love climbing Stone Mountain with her friends and family.
One day, she says, she'll be back on top of that mountain.
"Pure joy. Happiness. It's going to be priceless,” Tanisha Harris says.
Tanisha Harris is paying for her therapy at Project Walk Atlanta.
To learn more about Project Walk Atlanta, visit projectwalkatlanta.org/.