Hands were clapping, arms swaying and heads bobbing as Nashville singer Michelle Murray and her band played Friday at the Spinal Cord Injury Unit at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.
Murray is on a tour of Georgia that is helping to raise money for adaptive trucks for veterans, and her tour is sponsored by makers of adaptive equipment to convert vehicles. She has played a lot of VAs and clearly enjoys it.
“We always have a blast,” she told about two dozen patients and staffers. “You guys know how to party.”
Murray said her efforts were inspired after meeting former race car driver Sam Schmidt, paralyzed after a crash in 2000, and his determination to get better and walk again someday. She turned his motto into a song, It Won’t Be If, But When that she sang for the crowd.
“Everything but my heart could break but I’m still in the race,” Murray crooned. “I’ll get back up again. It won’t be if, but when.”
The crowd seemed to enjoy her original songs, and she jammed out with her guitar next to Larry Dodson’s wheelchair as he happily danced in it. But it was her rendition of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 that got occupational therapist Julie Blakey and physical therapist Ashley Pritchett dancing among their swaying patients.
Murray joked back and forth with the crowd and gleefully punctuated the end of some songs by honking the bicycle horn on Navy veteran Chuck Spilman’s wheelchair.
“Everybody loves the horn,” he said, and he often uses it to chastise people who cut in front of him in line. “It’s part of that saying: Mess with the bull and you get the horn.”
Proceeds from the Georgia leg of Murray’s national My Finish Line tour will help buy adaptive trucks for veterans through Truckin4Troops, a group begun by Scott Mallary and his family. They started off just helping get veterans home from the airport and then moved into helping them buy trucks that could be adapted for those with special needs.
Getting a truck gives them “their freedom,” Mallary said. “It gives them hope they’ll be able to do things.”
The VA spinal cord unit tries to incorporate different activities and outings with its patients as part of their therapy, said recreation therapist Valerie McNary, who jumped in to sing with Murray on a chorus. Having her visit means something to those patients, McNary said.
“It’s just nice to see other people from the outside care about them, want to spend time with them, and celebrate them as veterans,” she said.