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Anna and Justin: A love story and prom this weekend

Anna and Justin on their first date
Anna and Justin on their first date(Walker family photo)
Published: Apr. 29, 2021 at 5:45 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - We need a good story. Meet these two love birds, with a special weekend ahead. Anna Sumpter and Justin Walker both live in Lenoir and go to the same therapy clinic—Pediatric Therapy Network—in Hickory. They got to know one another when Anna’s therapists decided to have her work with another student for the last 10 minutes of her therapy. They thought it’d help her anxiety and encourage her to work hard. The “other student” was Justin. It was a two-way street in that therapists encouraged him to work with Anna, because they wanted him to use his speaking device more. They were betting on the fact Anna would talk to him and he would respond.

They were right. Anna and Justin hit it off. “The first time Justin said, ‘I love you’ to Anna, she cried,” said her grandmother, Sandra Sumpter. (Anna lives with both Sandra, known as “Nana,” and her grandfather, Alvin Sumpter.) “She was crying happy tears.”

Anna is a senior at West Caldwell High School. Her Nana said Anna was really excited to take Justin, who had been homeschooled, to her prom. Only, West Caldwell canceled prom because of COVID. Their families were equally bummed so rather than do nothing, this Saturday, May 1, both Anna and Justin’s families are throwing them a private prom with family and friends and held at Justin’s house. “Love can find a way,” said Nana. “Love always finds a way.” Little more background about these two? They have very different journeys. Anna was born at 27 weeks, weighed only 2.5 pounds, and had Cerebral Palsy. To this day, she remains mobile in a wheelchair and has, her Nana said, “a better quality of life because of many surgeries.” She also has no problem finding her voice. “She is very vocal,” Sandra said. “She is fearless, has opinions, and we all call her Sassy Pants. She even got on a zipline when she went to Victory Junction Camp. We are very proud of her.” As for Justin, he grew up as a kid who loved sports. He was an active member of Swim Lenoir, among other athletic teams. But one day in early 2015, Justin was building a rocket with his older brother. It exploded and Justin, at 14 years old, suffered a massive head injury. “Emergency services took him to a local hospital that day,” his mom said. “Then he was medically airlifted to Levine Children’s. It was so severe, he spent three months in the hospital.” Justin’s mom and dad, Marty and Renda, credit Justin’s older brother’s quick action with Justin’s survival. “Jalon was quick to administer First Aid and call 911,” mom Renda said. “And, of course, local EMS and medical personnel. As a result of this tragic event, both Justin and I now volunteer at Levine’s with the Trauma Survivors Network.”

Justin’s road to recovery has included surgeries, physical therapy, and a tremendous amount of pain. “But, he has also found happiness and made new friends through adaptive sports,” Renda said. “He competed in swimming with assistance from his dad in the Special Olympics as well as playing adaptive baseball each season. Justin has waterskied, snow-skied, and shot firearms with Citizen’s Police Academy. He also participated with Hibriten High School’s Swim Team, as well as continued to support Swim Lenoir by going to events and even swimming in a simulated race at Conference Champs.”

And this Saturday, six years after life changed instantly, Justin is now celebrating a prom. “It’s wonderful!” Renda said. “So many teenagers enjoy prom and now that Justin and Anna have met, and want to go... our families wanted to give them a prom experience even if the high school wasn’t hosting one. We’re calling it the Love Birds prom. They are happy, and being around them makes us happy.” Been smiling as I wrote this entire story. Joyful typing. Please, either Sandra or Renda, send photos after the party this weekend. We’d all love to see.

-Molly

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