‘I was protected:’ Fan who says she fell at Colonial Life Arena grateful for only minor injuries (2024)

By Nick Neville

Published: May. 15, 2024 at 9:49 PM EDT

COLUMBIA, S.C. – (WIS) A fan who said she fell over a railing at Colonial Life Arena over the weekend is grateful that her injuries were not more severe.

27-year-old Kayla Cotten is an avid women’s basketball fan who traveled from Virginia for the Las Vegas Aces preseason game on Saturday, May 11.

She said she fell from her wheelchair and onto concrete while trying to get a better glimpse of the game action.

Cotten believes that Colonial Life staff could have handled the situation differently.

She is doing better and was released from the hospital on Wednesday after suffering minor injuries, but is still very sore.

“Dealing with disabilities and stuff, you have to deal with a lot in arenas, and sometimes you’re tossed aside and not really considered, it’s like you’re that one fan,” Cotten said. “For this situation, even though the Colonial Life Arena didn’t handle it, the arena itself, the team, the fans, everyone around it has just stepped up and just showered me in love.”

Though Cotten has not heard from the University of South Carolina, which owns the arena, she is feeling the love from the Gameco*cks.

Dawn Staley and USC guard Raven Johnson have both offered messages of support on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Staley said in a post to Cotten’s father Jonathan, “We r deeply sorry to the highest level this happened to sweet Kay. U r completely rt & we must do better. Our #1 priority is that every1 feels safe when they come to @CLAmktg. U hv given us in gr8 detail what should have taken place. I’ll take it 2 top.”

Cotten was wearing a Johnson jersey at the game, which had to be cut off her once she got the hospital.

Johnson has since offered to replace the jersey, Cotten said.

“I genuinely don’t know if I’ve ever felt more supported in a hospital stay than this past few days, and I’ve had a lot of hospital stays,” she said.

Cotten was diagnosed with mitochondrial disease as a teenager, and spent much of her adolescence in and out of hospitals.

She uses a wheelchair because walking for long periods can be difficult.

Cotten was initially told that she could not be seated in the section where she purchased tickets Saturday because it was inaccessible, and advised to go up to the rafters.

Once there, she said much of her view of the court was obstructed by the railing.

“My best friend, who was there, was even noting, she said, ‘I was a little dizzy from the height’ just because we’ve never sat, we’ve gone to a lot of arenas, sat in cheap, cheap seats, and never minded it, but we’ve never been high,” Cotten said. “She even pulled my wheelchair back because she said the railing is so low.”

Cotten claims that she and her friend were advised that arena staff would help them move to a lower section. But that move never happened.

She got excited at one point, sat up from her wheelchair, leaned forward, and momentum propelled her over the railing, she said.

Cotten said doctors have told her it is remarkable she did not have any internal bleeding or broken bones from the fall.

“There’s no medical explanation because I have fallen before on way smaller – tripped over, fallen and hurt myself way worse,” she said.

Cotten believes God was protecting her that day.

“Dawn Staley leads her life by pouring onto those, even those she doesn’t know, and praying, and praying over that arena,” she said. “I trust that she prays over that arena all the time, and so I just knew when they told me that, I thanked Dawn and I thanked God in my heart because I was protected.”

Cotten said she wants to sure make people with disabilities are heard, considered and listened to in situations like these.

“People who have disabilities want to go out and want to enjoy games and want to have fun,” she said. “A lot of times, it takes 5-10 minutes to help us get to where we are. A lot of times, it doesn’t take that much effort, it just takes a little extra effort. And my thing to other people if you are disabled, if you deal with that, you are not a burden to people. You deserve to get to have the same opportunities.”

All Cotten wanted, she said, was the opportunity to sit in the seats she paid for.

Visiting Colonial Life was a bucket-list item for her.

Cotten said she hopes that some changes are made at Colonial Life to make it more accessible for people with disabilities, and to ensure that this does not happen to anyone else.

One suggestion she proposed is plexiglass in areas where there is disability-seating.

A spokesperson for USC said in a statement, “We value the safety of our guests at all events in our venues and our staff takes precautions and prepares for a safe experience for visitors attending events at our facilities.”

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‘I was protected:’ Fan who says she fell at Colonial Life Arena grateful for only minor injuries (2024)
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