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Tara Blackwell has fond farewell with Tara Fest event at Seville Quarter
Tara Blackwell was surrounded Saturday by family, friends and emotion.
It has been this way at each of the previous Tara Fest events, but the one Saturday at Seville Quarter offered a special experience and finality.
This was the 10th and last one. Blackwell, 29, who enters her second year at her prep alma mater as Pine Forest softball coach, believed it was time to move forward in the same way she has tried to do since her paralyzing injury.
"My cousin Brandi (Parkerson) has been the soul behind (Tara Fest) and it's just been a lot on her," said Blackwell as she mingled with friends and guests Saturday. "So we just wanted to take the pressure off it and let it end with a big shebang.
"It has been going strong for so long, we didn't want it to dwindle and fade out. We wanted to keep it big and strong. We wanted to go out while it was still good."
It was good Saturday like the others have been. The event featured live bands, food, beverages, laughter and reunion of many of Blackwell's closest friends. A glossy program book, entitled "Tara Blackwell ... Courage beyond Measure" was presented which chronicles her life in a special way.
Tara Fest has been a rallying event and fundraiser to help offset Blackwell's medical costs since her life-altering injury on April 9, 2005.
Blackwell was a sophomore star infielder on the Troy University softball team when she sustained a severe spinal cord injury while doing an assisted backflip between games of a doubleheader that day in Nashville. It left her confined to a wheelchair, but she has kept a determined mission to regain as much use of her body as therapy and treatments can provide.
In September, she heads to Orlando to spend time at the Project Walk-Orlando facility. It is a certified spinal cord recovery center with therapists, trainers and connection with many other Floridians who have sustained paralyzing injuries.
"It is more like a gym kind of atmosphere," Blackwell said. "It is not a medical based facility.
"More like a gym to go work out. It will be very challenging, very athletic. I am really looking forward to it. I feel stronger than I've felt in a couple years since I had some setbacks from procedures."
This has been a special year for Blackwell. Troy University retired her No. 7 jersey in a ceremony before the softball team's final home game in May. On May 9, Blackwell participated in graduation ceremonies at Troy, following years of online courses to complete her bachelor's degree.
She also wrapped up her first season as softball coach at Pine Forest where the Eagles doubled their win total from the previous year.
Blackwell's quest is to see Pine Forest return to the kind of success she helped produce as a player in 2003 when she finished her senior season on the PNJ All-Area first team and led the Eagles to consecutive district championships. That team advanced to the Region 1-4A championship game.
Coaching has thrilled her.
"It was awesome," Blackwell said of coaching. "We're really trying to develop a whole new culture there. I think the main root of the issue is the (lack of) confidence they have in themselves and the program.
"I think it just comes from having difficult seasons. Everybody goes through those growing periods. I think we are kind of rebuilding and I feel really good about the future of the program."
Blackwell said she will be forever grateful for the community support since her injury. The Tara Fest events have been at a variety of venues. The last couple years Seville Quarter has been the host and Blackwell is thankful for the support.
"The name Tara Fest is so much more than just about one person," Blackwell said. "To me it's been a reason for our community to come together for something positive. I try to give back to the community as much as they have given to me.
"I would not be where I'm at right now without this community. All the people who support me and have supported me for 10 years. This is always very emotional for me. I am just so blessed."
The final one will leave a lasting memory.