Stage collapse victim finishes birthday 5K

Andrea Vellinga

Hundreds hit the pavement in Pendleton Saturday for the "For the Love of Andrea" 5K Run/Walk.

The event raised money for Andrea Vellinga, who was critically injured in the State Fair stage collapse. But watching the 5K wasn't enough for Andrea. On her 31st birthday, and still in the midst of rehab, she was right out there with them.

For Andrea, the past eight months have been a marathon of rehabilitation and recovery. But Saturday, distance was outpaced by determination.

"Oh, we're just so proud of her and I've told her that over and over again," said Sara Joyner, Andrea's employer.

The 5K in Pendleton, decked out in her favorite pink, was a way for Andrea to show her amazing progress since the State Fair tragedy and raise money for her medical care. She was one of the most seriously injured in the stage collapse, suffering severe brain trauma. A portion of her skull had to be removed and she remained in a coma for weeks.

She's since had multiple surgeries and therapies to regain basic skills. Doctors say she's making a remarkable recovery.

"She's a goal-setter and I know she's been setting goals in her recovery like she did when she worked for us," Joyner said.

Today, a crowd of friends, family and supporters paid tribute to lives lost at the State Fair with a moment of silence. Then, the starting horn sounded, and Andrea set another goal. She walked strong, step by step, mile by mile, finishing the entire 5K course.

It's an accomplishment she can't help but be proud of.

"Brilliant. Almost like the old me," she said after high-fiving friends and hugging her husband at the finish line.

Andrea still has more rehab and more medical care to come. She's now returned home to Pendleton for good, after living in a Michigan hospital for months. She says this event gives her even more reason to push ahead.

"It feels really good, all this support," Andrea said. "It's the best birthday ever."

She's a survivor who had to relearn how to walk, now on a journey overcoming all the odds.