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A college student thought she'd never live down how she fell in front of her class

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The series My Unsung Hero from the team at Hidden Brain tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Today's story comes from Julie Ort. When Julie started college, she was recovering from a major spinal cord injury. The leg brace and crutches that she used to walk often made her late to class. And on one of these occasions, she got to her physics class and was trying to maneuver into a seat without drawing attention to herself.

JULIE ORT: But as I was scooting sideways between the first and second rows, my backpack shifted, and I began to freefall backwards. Meanwhile, my legs shot straight up in the air so that the entire class was framed between my knees as they, in unison, gasped, some of them reaching their hands out as if they might be able to catch me, all of them with a look of absolute horror. The instructor actually had to come over and help lift my legs over the back of the seat and swing me around to the front. And all the while, I just looked at him and begged, please just go on teaching.

The rest of the day was a blur. I couldn't look anyone in the eye. I just kept thinking that for the next four years, I would meet people and never know if they might have been in that class. So that night I decided to hide in the library. I found one of those study carrels where you have two desks that are facing each other, but there's this high, wooden partition in between them. And I just kept my head down, reliving those God-awful 50 minutes of class where I sat there with a wall of pity to my back.

But at some point, I looked up to see a hand slide two warm chocolate chip cookies across the desk toward me. So I lean to my far right to see if maybe there was someone on the other side of the partition, and there was. It was another student. And he leaned out to meet my gaze and just shrugged and said, I was in physics class today. That was it. And then I ate those warm chocolate chip cookies. It made me realize that, even in those moments of being brought incredibly low, there are people who just want you to take that next step forward. To my unsung hero, I don't remember your face. I didn't think to ask your name. But I have never forgotten your kindness.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: That was Julie Ort of Highlands Ranch, Colo. She still walks with canes and a leg brace, but she also enjoys biking and cross-country skiing now. You can find more stories from My Unsung Hero wherever you get your podcasts. And to share the story of your unsung hero, record a voice memo on your phone, and email it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.