To escape the midafternoon sun, Katie Samson parked her wheelchair in the shade and explained how she had grown comfortable with her lifestyle. Although her condition might limit her, she certainly wouldn't allow it to define her, Samson said.

A few moments earlier, a bubbly group of teenage girls' lacrosse players had bustled through the open gate and greeted Samson, their assistant coach, while clutching equipment bags and lacrosse sticks.

Before the events of a snowy night in January 2000, Samson was one of them.

A standout goalie at Radnor, where she now coaches, Samson went on to win a Division III national championship at Middlebury (Vt.). Home on break from college, Samson was sledding with friends when her life changed in an instant.

Her sled was sent airborne after hitting a bump, and Samson was sent down to the bottom of the hill. She immediately knew something was wrong, as her body became warm.

Samson injured her spinal cord and became paralyzed from the waist down, with limited control of her hands and a grip too weak to grasp a lacrosse stick.

On Saturday at Radnor, Samson will hold the 11th annual Katie Samson Festival, which benefits her foundation for paralysis research.

In the spirit of not letting the paralysis define her, Samson has found ways to improvise in her coaching.

"I can demonstrate footwork with my wheelchair," said Samson, 31. "I tell them, 'Picture the way I'm turning my chair as you're turning your hips.' Astroturf helps a lot; coaching on grass is not as easy."

Fifty-four high school teams will play Saturday on five fields in a celebration of a sport that intertwines the Samson family.

Samson's father, Peter, played lacrosse at Penn, and her older brothers, David and Brian, played in college before coaching at the high school level. Her younger sister, Molly, is a junior on the Radnor team.

After graduating from Middlebury in 2003, Samson earned a master's degree in art history from the University of Arizona. Staying out west for six years, Samson headed the education department of the university's art museum before returning to Delaware County this year.

Samson drives a specially equipped SUV. Unemployed, she is looking to work at a museum in Philadelphia.

During a recent visit to Germantown Academy, Samson shared her story with students and fielded a question from a curious middle schooler.

If a "magic pill" were created that would cure paralysis and give Samson the chance to be free from her wheelchair, would she take it, the student asked.

"The life that I've led in the past 11 years [is] a life that I don't know if I ever would've pursued," Samson said.

Contact staff writer Matt Breen at 215-854-4550 or mbreen@phillynews.com.