W&L swimmer returns to campus after 2022 spinal cord injury

Devin Bateman, ’25, navigates campus accessibility and celebrates reunions after months of rehabilitation


Bateman suffered a spinal cord injury on a spring break trip, paralyzing all four of his limbs. Photo courtesy of Devin Bateman ’25

Bri Hatch, Editor-in-Chief

It all started with a “heartbreaking” spikeball tournament loss, Devin Bateman, ’25, said. “With that, a couple of us decided we would get into the water.”
The star rookie swimmer for Washington and Lee had traveled to Gulf Shores in Alabama for a staple first-year spring break trip with his fraternity brothers in April 2022.
“I was definitely running in, and I decided to dive into the water,” Bateman said. “And it was not deep enough, much more shallow than I expected or judged as I was going in.”
What happened next is hazy. Elizabeth Marshall, ’25, had been Bateman’s designated spikeball partner since they first met — and that April 17 tournament was no different. Marshall remembers running and diving into the ocean with Bateman to cool off from their stinging loss.
“But I guess there was a sand bar in front of him and not in front of me,” she said. “So I stood up and turned over and he was like floating.”
Marshall then called out for help. Matt Snyder, ’25, who swam in the same lane as Bateman during practice, pulled him out of the water and put him in a chair. Marshall called the police. Someone else called Bateman’s parents.
“People kept saying ‘What happened? What happened? Can you explain what happened?’ Like, all I can tell you is that we dove in, stood up, and he was down,” Marshall said. “That was the hardest part about it, that nobody had an explanation. Nobody could say what had happened. He couldn’t say what had happened.”
Bateman was airlifted to an emergency room at Ascension Sacred Heart hospital in Pensacola, Florida, where he underwent surgery. But all Bateman remembers is diving into the ocean — and waking up in the intensive care unit with a C6 spinal cord injury, causing paralysis in all four of his limbs.
A GoFundMe page raised over $288 thousand to cover medical bills and rehabilitation expenses for Bateman’s family. And now, after seven months spent training and healing, Bateman is back on campus.
“Being back so far, overall it’s been great,” Bateman said, smiling brightly in a crowded and noisy Elrod Commons living room on a Thursday morning. He returned in January, enrolled as a sophomore and gearing up to declare a “light” business and politics major with a minor in math, he said.
But transitioning back to student life hasn’t been all easy, Bateman said. In a wheelchair, traveling on campus takes longer — and there are notable obstacles.
“Because bricks are like the only thing we’re traveling on here, some of them are a little uneven and it’s bumpy,” Bateman said. “Sometimes my spasms kick my legs out and stuff because of the bumps.”
And every route takes extra planning, he said.
“Getting to Lenfest, for example, there’s two separate ways I could go,” Bateman said. “I’ve been going through the gym, down the elevator, through the parking garage, and down that elevator. Before, I thought the best way to go was through quad, down the Gaines sidewalk and cross the street. But crossing the street doesn’t seem like a good idea for me, so I take the bridge.”

A van has its sliding passenger door open. A wheelchair ramp extends from the door to the ground.
The university provided two accessible vans and a driver for Bateman. Traveller workers received training on how to operate the van. (Bri Hatch)

Before he returned, Marshall said she was worried about the transportation options available on campus for Bateman.
“Everyone on campus knows that we are not a handicap-friendly campus,” she said.
The university offers two accessible vehicles for Bateman to use. Andrew Patterson drives Bateman around in one of the vans during the day “whenever he calls,” he said. The university driver views his service as essential.
“For someone who has a wheelchair, you have to have it,” Patterson said.
Even with the driver, Bateman said he still faces transportation challenges.
In the beginning of the semester, he had back-to-back classes in Lenfest and the Center for Global Learning. The fifteen-minute window left little time for a driver to respond.
“By the time they got me and brought me there, I was still late,” Bateman said.
Accessing Washington and Lee’s social scene is an entirely different battle. Traveller workers received training for using the accessible van when Bateman calls. But because the Traveller service doesn’t open until 10 p.m., Bateman has to wait a couple hours after events start to arrive.
Bateman’s fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, built an outdoor ramp at the house, he said. A lift is in the process of being built, too.
In general, Bateman said, everyone has worked hard to make student life accessible. Bateman has a wristband that automatically lets him into Graham Lees housing. Professors swap out desks with attached chairs for rolling tables, and provide him with notes.
Dining hall staff are the unsung heroes, Bateman said. “They carry my plate over for me and everything.”

Bateman, a man wearing swim goggles and a swim cap, swims in a pool.
Bateman said the swim team was a major pillar of support during recovery. Photo courtesy of Generals Athletics

Bateman has also attended practices with the swim team to meet new members and reunite with old ones. He cheered the team on at one home meet, and plans to continue.
“I’ll definitely go to all of the home meets. Because I mean, I have to cheer on the people that I love most,” Bateman said. “And I haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m going to start going to that one table that a bunch of swimmers raid in the library.”
Bateman said members of the swim team sent him cards and visited several times while he was in rehabilitation programs. Coach Kim Gardner reached out multiple times, too.
“Devin is just one of those people that you want to be around, that you want to have part of your life, part of your team,” Gardner said. “He’s always energetic, he always has a positive attitude.”
Bateman said he definitely will not be swimming this semester. One of the biggest surprises about his injury has been how slow the recovery process is.
“When I first got hurt, I was like, ‘This sucks, but I’m going to be better soon,’” Bateman said. “I didn’t know the severity of the accident was so bad.”
Bateman began rehabilitation for his injuries immediately after spending ten days in the Pensacola hospital. He spent three months in an inpatient program at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia — and two months in the “day program” there.
“You’re in apartments right next to the main Shepherd building. And it’s like living on your own, training you for that situation,” Bateman said.
He then spent two months in the Shepherd outpatient program before moving back to Virginia with his parents.
“Throughout that process, there have been a lot of different things that I could consider as a win,” Bateman said. “From the beginning, like not really being able to move much at all, basic things like brushing your teeth or putting on clothes was huge for me.”
But the injury and recovery process “definitely takes a toll mentally,” he said. “Especially thinking back to before I got here, prior to my injury, what I was capable of then compared to now. It’s tough to think about.”
Bateman credits his support system — his mom, his friends at Washington and Lee, and the Shepherd Center community — for helping him stay positive. He is currently taking a break from rehabilitation training to settle back into college life. Eventually, he will restart at a local center.
But for now, Bateman is eager to be back and “in the know.”
“I feel like I’m missing out on stuff. I’m having serious FOMO,” Bateman said in an interview in November. “Sometimes there’ll be like inside jokes or nicknames that some of my friends know. And I’m just like, I have no clue what that means.”
Marshall is celebrating the return of Bateman’s “rapid-fire, dry humor.” Snyder missed Bateman’s outgoing spirit, always “yelling stuff out, making people laugh.”
“I just want life on campus, going through the motions,” Bateman said. “Just being with my friends, and the swim team, and being involved in general.”