CHARLOTTESVILLE — It doesn’t take long to figure out that Eastern Hancock High School senior Dalton Carter Duffy is a man of his own mind and that things are not always as they seem.
Relegated to a wheelchair for most of his life from the effects of central core disease, Duffy shed the contraption on his 18th birthday.
There was no miracle recovery – medical literature indicates there is no known cure for the relatively uncommon condition that affects and weakens the skeletal muscles near the center of the body – Duffy just decided he didn’t want the wheels.
At age 18, he felt he was old enough to decide for himself.
And that was that.
“I function well on my own, and under pressure,” he said.
He underwent a spinal fusion procedure four years ago that left him paralyzed down his right side.
“The doctors told me the chances of me walking again were very slim,” he recalls. “But I proved them wrong within two years.”
Originally from Arizona, Duffy transplanted to Indiana and Eastern Hancock in 2001 after spending time in Oregon.
In addition to his tenacious and purposeful character, there was a bit of serendipitous good luck floating about during his transition to rural Hancock County.
“I saw an FFA bag at a rummage sale and thought it was cool,” Duffy said.
Having an FFA bag slung over one’s shoulder is a solid entrée into a school that lives and breathes all things ag, and Duffy, who exudes a decidedly urban air, was alright going along for the ride, he said.
As he entered his senior year, however, yet another challenge presented itself.
Beginning in mid-August, he was slammed with extreme headaches that for all purposes put him down.
The only time he could escape the misery, he said, was when he slept, and the torment lasted until January.
“It’s more like what they didn’t give me,” he responded when asked what he took to ease the pain.
He tried to do much of his school work at home – even amid the headaches – and passed most of his coursework, but still came up shy for his final semester.
Carrying his regular class load, Duffy made up the remainder of his outstanding course requirements online, taking a section test each day and sometimes two to get the work completed on time.
Duffy said the EH community was “very supportive and very understanding, but there was something else at play as well.
“I’m a Scorpio, and they’re incredibly independent and … stubborn,” he smiled. “I know I am.”
In his final semester at EH, Duffy found he had a deeper connection to the school’s ag culture than he initially suspected.
With an abiding interest in rocks and minerals – he works mineral shows all over the state – Duffy connected with EH ag science and business teacher Scott Jacobs’ ag class.
“Once I had him as a student,” Jacobs said, I discovered we had a lot of things to offer that he was interested in.”
It was the side conversations with Duffy that Jacobs found captivating.
“I wish I had a lot more time to pick his brain,” Jacobs said.
After graduation, Duffy intends to attend the University of Arizona, where the weather is a bit more conducive to “eating Christmas dinner outside,” and pursuing paleontology and psychology with doctorate degrees in both disciplines as possibilities for the future.
Ultimately, Duffy sees settling somewhere between the sea and the mountains of Oregon, but Wednesday it was all about winding down his time at EH and getting out of school.
With his rummage sale FFA bag slung from his shoulder, long coat and black jeans, Duffy looked a bit more suited to a SoHo street corner in Lower Manhattan than the farmland of Hancock County.
It was just another apparent contradiction in a world where what appears to be isn’t always the case.
“Surprisingly,” Duffy said, “I’m a city slicker who likes ag.”