Courtney Gale got back her badge.
Nearly six years after a near-fatal knife attack, Gale was sworn in again this week as an officer with the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
She was reinstated as a sergeant, the rank she held when a man stabbed her a dozen times in December 2007.
Though Gale returned to the job in a civilian capacity in February 2012, Tuesday marked the day she had her eye on while on a grueling road to full recovery.
Soon before she was attacked, Gale had passed the lieutenant’s exam. She passed it again during the winter, positioning herself to achieve her long-term goal of climbing to the top of the law enforcement career ladder.
“It’s a dream come true,” Gale said Wednesday morning. “Everything is lining up where I left off. I’m a sergeant. I passed the lieutenant’s exam. I’m back in the game.”
Gale made use of her long medical leave to earn a master’s degree in public administration at the University of Georgia. It’s an accomplishment that has become a requirement to become police chief in many large metropolitan areas.
“My goal of becoming police chief has not changed,” she said. “I’m just picking up where I left off.”
Athens-Clarke Police Chief Jack Lumpkin referred to Gale as “a miracle who overcame insurmountable adversities, both physical and emotional, to achieve this desired outcome.”
Gale was a supervisor in the Athens-Clarke police robbery-homicide unit on Dec. 11, 2007, when she was moonlighting as a uniformed security guard at Kroger on Alps Road.
When she checked on a man’s bizarre behavior in the meat aisle, he attacked her with a kitchen knife and stabbed her a dozen times. The knife sliced her femoral artery, and authorities said she would have bled to death in the supermarket if a nurse who was shopping hadn’t been there to help stanch the bleeding.
The officer remained in a coma for two weeks and had several surgeries to save her leg, all while tethered to a respirator, a dialysis machine and feeding tube. She was released from the hospital 45 days later, then underwent intensive therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
Doctors called her recovery extraordinary.
In a matter of weeks, Gale went from wheelchair to a walker and then a cane. After completing supervised rehab, she continues to work out at a gym at least four days each week.
“The party’s over,” Gale said. “It’s time to get to work again.”
Though her doctor deemed Gale ready to return to work in December 2011, police officials were not ready to take her back as an officer until she could demonstrate she had recovered the physical and cognitive abilities required for the job.
In the meantime, Gale was hired as a civilian police employee, assigned to the training division and assisting with re-accreditation — an independent review of the police department. Her responsibilities were increased when assigned as coordinator of the Leadership in Police Organizations program, a three-week course hosted by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department.
The 10th class, comprised of 36 students representing 12 agencies from Georgia and North Carolina, graduated last week. During a commencement ceremony, Lumpkin told graduates about Gale’s pending reinstatement as a police officer.
Rodney Manning, an LPO instructor with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, congratulated Gale for tirelessly working her way back to full duty.
“Your perseverance over the last six years has enabled you to reach this goal. The constant adversity and obstacles physically and emotionally that you endured only make you stronger,” Manning said to Gale. “More importantly, the high level of character — the goals and values you possess — coupled with your competence is a shining example to all.”
Gale officially became a police officer again on Tuesday, when administered the oath of her position by Athens-Clarke County Probate Court Judge Susan Tate.
As she had many times during her recovery, Gale thanked her loved ones for their support and expressed gratitude to the Athens-area community.
“All of the fundraisers people had while I was in ICU and afterwards provided the financial assistance that got me through grad school, so I didn’t have to be so stressed out over how to pay for it,” she said.
“On top of that, when I go to the grocery store, complete strangers hug me and tell me how they prayed for me,” Gale said. “I only attribute where I am today to the prayers being answered and that the Lord has a plan. For that, I am forever commited to the community.”
Courtesy of Athens Banner Herald/OnlineAthens.com