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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: 'Against the Odds' stories inspire awe, tears

By Sara Shipley Hiles
December 7, 2012 | 3:35 p.m. CST

Dear Reader,

A journalism professor should not cry in front of her students, I kept telling myself.

Yet I found tears in my eyes several times over our “Against the Odds” stories — and for all the right reasons.

The first time was when photojournalism student Naveen Mahadevan showed me his photos of Gretchen Maune, a young woman who went blind at age 24. Maune lives in her own apartment with her beloved guide dog, Keeper, while she pursues a master’s degree in public policy at MU. In one picture, Maune gently held the dog’s face up to hers, almost as if she could see him with her hands.

I was touched by Maune’s courage and tenacity, despite the obstacles.

“That is beautiful,” I told the photographer, sniffling.

When I came up with the idea for this project at the beginning of the semester, I envisioned finding people in the community who had overcome the odds somehow. My reporters at Vox magazine exceeded my expectations with their profiles of 13 inspirational people (and one dog) who are the picture of perseverance.

Some stories speak to inner strength: Michael Middleton endured racial slurs as an MU student in the 1960s, but today, he is deputy chancellor. Harold Carter kept his humanity despite three years in POW camps.

Others are more lighthearted: Tom and Jenna Moran’s rare solar-powered business shines a light on the future of alternative energy. Jayson, the incredible dachshund, recovered from being hit by a car thanks to $3,500 in community donations.

In all, about 30 Missouri School of Journalism faculty and students collaborated to create touching multimedia pieces, gorgeous photography and a nifty website. The stories ran in print, online and on our iPad app.

I think my favorite story is about Hannah Hartley, who has a severe form of muscular dystrophy. Vox reporter Hope Timmermann was there when family and friends gathered to celebrate Hannah’s birthday at a gala party complete with pink balloons and punch. It wasn’t just any birthday, you see. It was her 18th birthday. Doctors had told Hannah’s parents she wouldn’t live past a year.

I’m told that Hannah’s mom, Donya, shed a few tears at the occasion. I did, too, just reading about it.

Sara Shipley Hiles is an assistant professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the leader of the Against the Odds project.