Sometimes all it takes is one moment — one second — to permanently alter the course of our life in ways we can’t even fully imagine until it happens. A moment that, even years later, will be spoken about in terms of before and after.
While on a family hunting trip in October 2006, Austin Charters was accidentally shot in the neck from two feet away. The bullet shattered his C5 vertebrae, rendering him a quadriplegic. Suddenly, he could no longer pick things up and felt no movement from his chest down.
Prior to the accident, Austin was involved in numerous sports and activities, from BMX bike racing to running on the cross-country team. At just 12 years old, getting used to his new normal and returning to school wasn’t easy.
“It was pretty hard to adjust,” he says, “but I knew I had a good support group, so I wanted to get back on campus as soon as possible.”
From seventh grade through high school, a specially trained nurse was there to address his needs and help him take notes throughout the day.
After high school
“As a kid it’s not ideal, especially when I got to high school — you want to be your own person,” Austin says. “The last two years, I ended up attending part time, and the rest was home school. It made things easier because I wasn’t comfortable anymore and felt like I couldn’t be myself.”
After high school, Austin took a break from school. But after a close friend passed away, he made the decision to go to college.
“He would always say, ‘Hey, you have to get back to school,’” he explains. “When he passed away, I felt like I really owed it to him. Within two weeks, I had signed up for community college.”
His mom, Loretta Charters, dropped everything to attend school with him, helping him write notes and take tests. After he had earned his associate’s degree, Austin found out about ASU Online through one of his doctors. The university had been a dream school of his since he was little — in fact, he had been wearing an ASU shirt during the hunting trip that changed the course of his life.
“It was a crazy coincidence,” he says, “but I had been a fan for a long time.”
Hoping to take some of the responsibility back from his mom in order to ease her workload, Austin enrolled in the online undergraduate business administration program.
“I decided on a business major because with my disability, it’s hard to go work for somebody in an office,” he says. “I really want to learn and obtain tools on how to run a business for myself so that when I graduate, I can start my own company and not have to worry if something medical pops up. It was an easy decision, and I’m glad because it’s a really fun and interesting program. My mom still has to help me with some things, but for the most part the online experience has been so amazing, just to have it easily accessible at any time of day.”
No matter the setback or circumstances, it is possible to overcome adversity
With limited hand function, Austin is unable to pick up a device or use a computer. He has worked with ASU’s Disability Resource Center to ensure he has the assistive technology he needs to complete his coursework.
“They’ve been amazing,” he shares. “I use an assisted tablet and there are some monitoring programs that aren’t compatible with the technology. [The DRC] constantly helps me find solutions and works with me on making sure I’m good to go.”
Another equally important resource during Austin’s time at ASU thus far has been his Success Coach, Joe Perry.
“I feel like he’s one of my best friends, and I’ve never met him in person,” Austin says. “If something cool happens in my life, I can call and tell him. He’s a great support system.”
The feeling is mutual, according to Joe.
“Austin is a great example of how, no matter the setback or circumstances, it is possible to overcome adversity, create your own success and improve the quality of your life,” he wrote in a recent letter to a scholarship committee.
He adds, “The amount of empathy and perspective he has is really impressive for someone his age given what he’s gone through. When people have a bad day, he doesn’t want them to feel like they have to say it’s nothing compared to what he deals with. He understands that it is relative to their situation — they’re allowed to feel that way.”
Life after graduation
Austin hopes to graduate in December 2018 and start a business in commercial properties.
“Buying and selling at first, then turning around and buying land to rent out for commercial uses,” he explains. “My dad has been working in construction for pretty much all my life, and I see some of the jobs he does and think how cool it would be if that was my building.”
Outside of school, Austin enjoys attending concerts, as well as off-road and motorcycle events. His biggest passion, however, is people.
“I love my friends, and making time to be with them,” he says. “No matter what it is we’re doing, just because I know how valuable time is after what I went through.”
About five years ago, Austin created a video series on YouTube documenting his accident and recovery, along with a visit to the site of the incident. Though he hasn’t shared any new videos for awhile, he hopes to set aside time to post more in the coming months.
“I want to showcase everything I do in life, not just the disabled part but also the abilities that I still have. I want to show that just because I’m disabled, it doesn’t mean I don’t like getting out of the house or that I can’t do that. I still have friends, and I still get out and enjoy doing stuff.”
Speaking of getting out — any plans to attend graduation on campus?
“As long as I’m physically able to, I’ll be there,” he says.