Standing in front of hundreds of her classmates Wednesday, Heather Hoehne smiled shyly and fidgeted as she waited for her award.
In the back of the gym, her mother leaned forward and waved.
Heather blushed. And waved back.
It was waving that led to so much trouble for Heather Hoehne seven months ago.
Playing near railroad tracks in Rathdrum, she and two boys saw a train approaching.
Determined to wave to the locomotive’s engineer, 7-year-old Heather stood about one inch from the railroad tie, waving to the man in the cab.
The engineer blew the whistle and braked hard, but couldn’t stop the train roaring along at 45 miles an hour. The locomotive’s “cow catcher,” - a wide blade across the front - clipped Heather.
The impact knocked the girl out of her laced-up sneakers, shattering both legs and leaving her sprawled, bleeding, beside the tracks.
Her playmates ran screaming for help.
Her mother, Trish Hoehne, was watching Sunday morning cartoons at home. The phone rang.
“Trish, there’s been an accident,” her friend said. “Your daughter’s been hit by a train.”
Heather was airlifted to Deaconess Medical Center in Spokane, where she spent 10 days in the intensive care unit. It would be three weeks before she left the hospital. In June, Heather visited her friends at Bryan Elementary School. She was in a wheelchair, with steel pins in both legs. “They said she might be walking by Christmas,” her mother recalled.
Instead, she was walking by summer. When school resumed this fall, Heather began running with her second-grade track team.
Sometimes she had to stop running and walk, officials said, but she finished every race.
“It never stopped her,” said cross country coach Leslie Kline. “It slowed her down a little, but she’s a determined little girl.”
On Wednesday, physical education teacher Clark Campbell surprised Heather with a special “Most Inspirational” award at the school’s cross country awards.
“She’s a person who overcame extreme odds,” he said, handing Heather a plaque and T-shirt. Her classmates clapped. Her mother had borrowed a neighbor’s videocamera for the occasion.
Heather spent most of Wednesday’s assembly hugging the plaque and showing it to curious classmates.
“It’s my favorite color, pink,” she said.
Her mother said she was delighted with the award, although she worries about the future. Health insurance paid nearly all of the $113,000 in medical bills, but the store Trish Hoehne manages is closing in January, leaving them without health insurance.
Still, she tried not to worry about that Wednesday, looking proudly at her daughter after the assembly.
“She is my miracle child,” Trish Hoehne said.