By Alex Lippa
---- — HAMPSTEAD — Receiving an award in any sport is quite an honor. But for Hampstead resident Paige Welch, the odds she would ever be able to even participate in sports was a long shot.
Paige, 17, had her left arm amputated following a boating accident in Trinidad in August 2009. Four years later, she received the coach’s award from tennis coach Gerry Rosado at Pinkerton Academy for her effort and determination.
“It’s something I can be proud of,” Paige said.
She was kayaking in Trinidad with mom Racquel and cousin Lance Aqui when disaster struck. Their kayak was smashed by a powerboat operated by an impaired driver. The propeller of the speedboat severed Welch’s arm, and there was fear for her life because she lost so much blood.
“The Coast Guard had expected to pick up corpses, but, fortunately, all of us survived,” Paige said.
Racquel had broken bones in her arm and back, as well as tears in her shoulder, leg and eye. Aqui’s foot was seriously cut in the accident.
But the focus was on Paige.
“She went through so much physically,” her mother said. “Knowing that she needed me, I didn’t even feel any pain, I just ignored it.”
Paige was stabilized at a nearby hospital, then flown to Boston Children’s Hospital to be treated.
“They tried their best to save the arm, but, unfortunately, it started rotting, it would have eventually been infected,” she said.
Paige stayed in the hospital for a month. She missed six months of school, but was able to complete all her work from home and complete eighth grade on time.
After the accident, Paige received support from her friends, family and more.
“We got letters from people all over the world,” she said. “The trouble was having to translate them.”
She also received many donations to pay for her medical care. The Hampstead Civic Club sponsored a poker fundraiser shortly after Paige returned home.
Once she started at Pinkerton, she was determined to compete in a sport, despite her disability. She originally wanted to be a field hockey goalie, but then decided on a sport that was a little more inexpensive — tennis.
“I had played tennis before, and I am right handed,” Paige said, “so I figured this would be something that I can do.”
She said she never had any doubts that she would be able to play tennis.
“After a couple weeks in the hospital, I was able to tie my shoe,” Welch said. “I had learned how to do things differently.”
Racquel also knew Paige would succeed at tennis.
“Even before the accident, she was very ambitious and strong willed,” she said. “I knew that no matter how long it took, she would figure out a way to do what she wanted to. If it was football, I might have had a different story.”
But her coach was a little more skeptical.
“In terms of serving and strokes, I wondered just how we were going to do this?” Rosado said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be possible for her to compete. But right from day one, she kind of figured things out.”
Rosado said Paige is the hardest working player on her team.
“If even half of my players had the work effort that she had, we’d win the state championship every year,” Rosado said.
Paige still has to go to the hospital once a year to get her arm looked at, but the injury has had meant very few limitations of what she can do.
“Just things like opening a jar is what I really have a tough time doing,” she said.
Paige hopes to continue playing tennis at college, where she is planning to major in Spanish and Arabic. She is applying to Dartmouth, Northeastern and Georgetown.