Incoming Coug overcomes near-fatal accident to get back on path to success

Overcoming a devastating accident, Emma Spalding will attend Washington State University this fall, fulfilling a life-long goal and setting herself up for long-term success.

Spalding had earned WSU’s 4-H Scholarship and was looking forward to pursuing a degree in animal sciences when she was involved in a serious car crash. Now, after months of hard work, the Elma, Wash., student is fully recovered and credits her success to never giving up.

Emma Spalding in FFA attire poses next to her cow while displaying ribbons.
Emma Spalding of Elma, Wash., displays her awards during an FFA event.

Early starts and first impressions

A longtime lover of animals, Spalding got involved with WSU’s 4-H Youth Development Program at a young age, showing animals at fairs and participating in Future Farmers of America (FFA). She worked for a local veterinarian over the last five years.

Spalding fondly remembers the first time she visited the WSU Pullman campus during a Washington FFA convention in 7th grade, especially enjoying the walks across campus and visits to Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe at the WSU Creamery.

“I’ve always known that WSU is my place,” she said. “When my acceptance letter came in, I thought, ‘This is it!’”

Life-threatening accident

Spalding and her mother were en route to Pullman for orientation when another driver sped through four stop signs and crashed into the side of their car. The other car struck the driver’s side of their vehicle, but the impact’s full energy ricocheted to the passenger seat, where Spalding slept after taking first shift at the wheel.

In the moments after the crash, Spalding was nonresponsive. Unknowingly having broken her back, her mother ran around the car to where Spalding lay unconscious. An emergency helicopter flight was immediately dispatched while Spalding’s heart rate became erratic and her blood pressure spiked and dropped.

“I broke four plates in my back, lost a kidney, had major traumatic brain injury, and spent one month in a coma,” Spalding said. “It took about four months of rehab to learn to speak and walk again.”

Looking ahead, giving back

Overcoming hardships to resume her college journey, Spalding is weighing a return to her family’s 112-year-old farm post-graduation, as well as a few other career options that she has always had a deep interest in.

“Becoming a technology representative for veterinary practices would be a great option, or I could potentially become a veterinarian,” she said. Spalding is also considering the fire science field, which includes emergency medicine, as another potential pathway.

“I currently volunteer at the local fire department, and I’d like to volunteer with Pullman’s reserves while I study,” she said. “It’s a great way to give back to the community and help those in need.”

Emma Spalding smiles at the camera while standing next to her two haltered cows.
Spalding grew up on a cattle farm in Elma, Wash., and is currently raising two dairy cows.