Still grasping an extinguished Olympic torch, Carl Henley, professor of social work, greeted each of the 70 friends and family members gathered around him. It was June 23, hot and humid. But Henley, who had just finished his half-mile leg of the 1996 Olympic torch relay, didn’t mind.

I feel so proud and happy,” he said, beaming. “I didn’t even know it was hot outside until I finished.”

Tell us why they gave you the hill, Carl!” a friend called out, referring to Henley’s route up Stroud Hill on East Franklin Street.

Because they know I’m tough,” he joked.

But there’s more than a little truth to that statement. Watching Henley walk briskly along with his torch—and knowing he just played a golf tournament and spent three days building homes with Habitat for Humanity—you’d never guess he learned to stand and to write again less than a year before. You’d never imagine he has minimal feeling in his hands and must think constantly about exerting pressure on the objects he holds. In fact, a slight limp is the only clue that in July 1995, Henley, now 58, lay in a hospital bed with his right side completely paralyzed by a spinal cord stroke.

When the symptoms began, Henley was riding to Pinehurst to play a round of golf with friends. First, he felt an intense muscle spasm in his neck. Later, his hands went numb, and, by the time he was admitted to UNC Hospitals, he couldn’t move his right arm or leg.

An MRI revealed a lesion in his spinal cord, extending from the second to the sixth vertebrae of the neck. Nobody could say if he would regain any feeling or the use of the right side of his body.

Henley spent five weeks and two days in the hospital. Most of that time was devoted to physical and occupational therapy. The doctors told him that the more ability he regained early, the more he would get back.

It motivated me to work my butt off,” Henley says. “I would do whatever exercises they told me to do, and then I’d do a few more.”

But it took more than determination to get back on track: Henley also credits the prayers and support of his friends and family—especially his wife, Martha Henderson, a clinical assistant professor at the School of Nursing—and his return to the classroom.

Just two weeks after being released from the hospital, Henley was teaching again, even though his neurologist told him that most people would take off the rest of the year. The rigorous schedule of out-patient physical therapy would have been enough to keep Henley busy, but he believed he would recover more quickly if he returned to work. Teaching is what he enjoys.

For 27 years Henley has taught research methods for social work, but he still gets excited by the students.

Every year we get a new crop, and they’re all different, so the class is never boring,” he says. “My interactions with the students keep me energized.”

Even after all this time, Henley thinks of the course as a challenge.

First I have to convince the students they need to know things like statistics,” he says. “Then I have to convince them they can learn it.”

Henley’s own research has shown that 50 percent of the students in social work, males and females alike, say they have math anxiety and can tie the feeling to a specific, painful or embarrassing incident.

It’s usually something like, ‘In the tenth grade, Mr. Jones told me I was stupid because I couldn’t do an algebra problem,’” Henley says. “I help them go beyond what they thought their limits were.”

In the fall 1995 semester, Henley’s students helped him do the same.

Every Monday morning I would stand in front of the class and raise my right arm,” he explains. “The students would judge the angle between my arm and my body, and if it got better, they would applaud. It made me want to work harder, so I could raise it a little higher the next time and get more applause.

But it was hard,” he admits. “I would teach for three hours, and then I would stretch out on the floor in my office. The secretary would tape a sign to my door that said, ‘Napping.’”

Henley’s effort paid off. After six months he joined his friends on the golf course again. After less than a year, he could stick his hand in his pocket and tell the difference between a coin and a comb.

He’s still improving and still working hard at it—taking water aerobics, swimming, and using weight machines at a local gym. His goal is to make as much progress in the second year as he did in the first—a goal his doctors call ambitious. But Henley isn’t one to back away.