The summer of 2011 was supposed to be one during which Samantha Drake proved she belonged at Kentucky. A highly regarded player coming out of Nelson Co., Drake struggled during her freshman season under coach Matthew Mitchell, enduring a knee injury and the proverbial growing pains associated with playing for the first time in the SEC.
In May, Drake's summer was abruptly interrupted. As she was driving to her home in Bardstown, Drake happened upon a wreck involving a motorcyclist and a car. Knowing that her older brother, T.C., rode a motorcycle, Samantha called home. Her mother, she said, answered frantically.
Fearing the worst, Samantha knew then the crumpled motorcycle belonged to her brother.
T.C. is a former Wildcat tight end. One of his greatest moments as a player came in 2007, when he caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter of UK's historic win over No. 1 LSU at Commonwealth Stadium.
But now, Drake was in for the fight of his life.
A drunk driver pulled out into the path of Drake and his motorcycle, the impact of the crash nearly killing him.
Drake was airlifted to a Louisville hospital, where doctors discovered he had suffered severe head trauma, broken bones in his face, shoulder and back. Drake also lost several teeth.
"It was a fluke thing," Samantha said. "T.C. was always wearing his helmet, always safe."
But on this day, with a short commute and hot weather, Drake decided to ditch the helmet.
Of all the days.
"It's important to wear a helmet," Samantha said, sitting down in Memorial Coliseum with 27 SportsFirst. "It only takes one time to not have a helmet on to change a person's life."
The UK center says she'll make helmet safety one of her projects.
"Wearing a helmet can keep you safe. Most people wouldn't have to deal with what me and my family had to go through," she said.
T.C. Drake is home, but is going through rehabilitation for injuries that could have long-term effects. Drake's jaw was rebuilt, but suffers nerve damage on the left side of his face. His sister says he can't hear out of his left ear and has trouble closing his left eye.
"It's going to be a process," she said. "One day at a time."
"His spirits are real good. He realizes what's happened, but he doesn't always have it all there sometimes," Samantha said.
Drake said her brother's injuries have served as a wake-up call and motivates her on and off the court.
"It really scared me," she said. "He's someone I've always looked up to. If he wasn't here, it would probably have a big impact on my life. I'd probably be struggling with the things I'm dealing with."
Instead, Samantha Drake now can focus on her second season with the Cats. She will dedicate this upcoming season to her big brother and urges anyone riding a bike or motorcycle to wear a helmet.