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National Guardsman solicits prayers for injured daughter

Longboarding was still a relatively new sport to Kali Shultz, but she loved it.

Heck, she loved anything that got her outdoors. Softball. Hunting with her dad. You name it.

An athlete at heart, she was good at them all, including her newest love, longboarding.

If the sport is new to you, catch up.

Unlike a decade ago when mentioning the word longboard to anyone unfamiliar with skate culture produced blank stares, that’s hardly the case now.

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Best described as ultra-long skateboards, longboards continue to grow in popularity, among nearly every demographic.

Including young women like 18-year-old Kali, whose first board was a gift from her boyfriend, Duncan Lowry.

The two of them were enjoying the sport back in May when all of a sudden Kali hit the ground, sat straight up and started to vomit.

When her eyes sunk back into her head, Duncan knew something wasn’t right.

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It was close to 3:30 p.m. on May 20. Kali’s dad, Kevin Shultz, an active-duty National Guardsman, was away training in Fort Polk, La., when Duncan reached him on his cellphone.

It took a while but Shultz managed to calm the young man down so he could understand his words.

“He kept saying I’m sorry,” Kevin Shultz remembered recently.

Finally Duncan forced the words out. Kali had fallen and hit her head. She was breathing. An ambulance had arrived.

Shultz’s heart dropped. Just three hours earlier, he’d talked to his little girl and, except for her car, she was a pretty happy camper.

She had successfully completed her freshman year at Brenau University, where she was on a softball scholarship. Her uncle was at their home in Walnut Grove fixing her car and, best of all, Kali had discovered a new hobby, longboarding.

Kali Shultz, 18, of Walnut Grove is attending Brenau University on a softball scholarship. She suffered a traumatic brain injury May 20 while longboarding with her boyfriend. CONTRIBUTED (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The only thing that could make her life better was a different diagnosis for her mom, Belinda, who’d been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a fatal genetic disorder that causes the progressive breakdown of nerve cells in the brain.

For the longest time, Kevin Shultz had contemplated what people meant when they said God doesn’t put any more on you than you can bear.

Now he was about to find out.

He called his wife, Belinda, to let her know that Kali, the younger of their two children, had been hurt; that he’d call Duncan’s dad and his former colleague to pick her up and take her to the hospital.

Before Shultz could dial Dick Lowry’s number, Lowry called him.

Shultz then notified his chain of command. He had to head back home. Kali was in trouble.

A half hour later, Lowry called back. Kali was at the Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville. Doctors said she was bleeding on her brain. They needed to operate.

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At 6 a.m. the next day, Shultz finally got on a flight home. Hours later, he arrived at the hospital, where he has been ever since.

“I’ve been home five times to pick up my wife to bring her here,” he said. “I haven’t slept in my bed in nearly a month now.”

Just days ago, he left Kali’s bedside in the hospital intensive care unit to talk to me in the hospital lobby.

Kali Shultz, 18, who recently completed her freshman year at Brenau University, suffered a traumatic brain injury on May 20. CONTRIBUTED (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Kali is in stable condition but still has some swelling in her brain. She is on a respirator to help with her breathing, and the medical staff is monitoring clotting in her lungs.

Doctors, Shultz said, haven’t ventured a prognosis for Kali. It’s hard to say how her health will pan out.

“They have to wait until she’s fully awake to determine what she can and can’t do,” he said.

The only thing for certain is Kali has a long road ahead of her. The good news is she has youth on her side.

And a whole lotta prayers.

Shultz shared her story because he hopes he can save someone this heavy burden.

First and foremost, he wants you know it’s important to wear a helmet when out skating or longboarding or riding a bike or a motorcycle.

It could prevent injury and more importantly save your life.

“I never got the chance to have that conversation with Kali, but it never occurred to me to even ask,” he said. “This is the consequence. Our family’s life has been turned upside down. If one person sees this, then I think we’ve accomplished what we want to accomplish.”

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Shultz has created a Facebook page to share updates on his daughter’s condition, and he’s also hoping you will join the circle of friends and family and complete strangers who are praying for Kali’s full recovery and that maybe you’d be willing to contribute to a GoFundMe account created to help defray any of his daughter’s medical expenses that insurance won’t cover.

“I’ve never really had to ask for help,” he said, “but I know there are a lot of unforeseen expenses.”

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Shultz knows because he’s talked to Gary and Jenny Wirl.

You may remember them. Their daughter Caroline Wirl suffered a traumatic brain injury while skateboarding last July 4. The Wirls at the time made a similar plea for people to wear helmets.

Caroline is doing much better, driving and preparing to go to college in the fall.

Her story, and another Shultz has since learned about, gives him hope.

“I’ve got to keep a level head because there are a lot of decisions that have to be made,” he said. “I’ve got to get Kali through this.”

Kali, Shultz said, is like a best friend. If anything ever happened to her, he used to think, he couldn’t go on.

But Shultz has learned, he said, that the saying is a true one: “God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle.”

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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