When Rudjard and Lorraine Hayes sat next to Lake magazine chairman Kenneth Boone and his wife, Mary Lyman, at an Atlanta Braves game last year, the conversation turned to Lake Martin, where the Hayes family is building a house. By the time the game was over, their daughter, Olivia, was signed up as a model for this year’s swimsuit and lifestyle edition of the magazine.

“It was really funny the way it happened,” said Olivia Hayes, who grew up coming to Lake Martin in the summer. “I have modeled in the past with a photographer in Peachtree City, Georgia. My favorite thing we’ve done was a ’70s-inspired shoot that was fantastic.”

Though she enjoys modeling, Hayes’ go-to hobby is horseback riding. She started riding at a young age – about 5 years old – but didn’t compete until she started riding saddle seat in college at Samford University in Birmingham, where she is a sophomore.

“I rode off and on growing up. In high school, my sport was soccer, but I had to stop playing soccer when I had surgery to correct a spinal condition that I had since birth. I had to have metal rods put in my spine, and after that, I wanted to pick up riding again,” she explained. “Riding is therapeutic for me. It is my escape from everything. It provides me with calmness.”

It also was traumatic for her when the horse she was riding tripped and fell on her last summer, but Hayes used the experience to strengthen her resolve, lean on her faith and better define her career choice.

“I was teaching a camp, and at the end of it, there were just a few kids still there. They were all experienced riders, so we decided we would ride bareback until it was time for them to go. I got on an older horse, and when he tripped, both of his front legs buckled. I fell off; and then, he fell on top of me. My pelvis was broken in four places with the left side of my pelvis completely collapsing inwards and – well, multiple bones, including my sacrum, which was crushed in three places,” Hayes explained. “The previous surgery really saved me, though, because when my sacrum shattered, instead of the fragments hitting my spinal column, they hit the metal rods. Otherwise, it might have killed me or paralyzed me.”

Hayes was in the hospital for three weeks following the accident and used a wheelchair for even longer. She drew on her family and her upbringing of faith for support during the recovery period.

“Seeing us as a family, we face things boldly. We have very strong faith. That’s what keeps us going. We are grateful for the miracles and the love that is poured into us when these things happen, and we come back stronger,” she said. “I think the most important thing a person can do is to lean on the people you are close with – the people who love you – because you can’t face everything by yourself. And trust in God. He’s got your well-being in control, so trust in Him instead of thinking you need to face a situation alone.” 

Hayes recently was accepted into the nursing school at Samford, and, having chosen to be a nurse anesthetist, plans to continue her education there at the master’s level.

“Seeing personally what a difference good medical care makes, I would like to be someone who can help to make people comfortable; help to make a painful situation better,” she said.

She’s glad to be back in the saddle – and to be part of the annual swimsuit and lifestyle issue of Lake.