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SLCC Female Welding Student Follows Her Dreams After Brush With Death

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Despite being told welding wasn’t for her, Kylie Hrubes learned firsthand that letting the expectations of others run her life would never lead to happiness.

Walking around the welding lab at Salt Lake Community College’s Westpointe Center, it may seem like a world of men — an empire of masculinity, where torches are fueled with raw testosterone.

But Hrubes disagrees.

“Cue ’80s montage,” she said with a laugh, as she whipped back her blonde hair after taking off her helmet.

Although men certainly dominate the career, Hrubes said she always saw welding as a natural extension of her childhood.

“I grew up on a farm in Montana, and it was like, you didn’t ask for someone else to fix your stuff, you fixed it,” she said.

She was told being in welding wasn’t possible.

“I wanted to do everything the guys did,” she said. “I was so caught up in what other people thought of me. I was the girl that straight up played ‘Little Guy Football.'”

She tried studying welding in high school, but was told women weren’t wanted.

“And I actually listened to them,” Hrubes said. “And that breaks my heart.”

Even learning to weld at the college level now, Hrubes isn’t supposed to be here — and it has nothing to do with being a woman.

Hrubes’ life came to a screeching halt while riding along in rural Montana.

“We were going about 70, we were passing, someone tried to jump the highway, and just hit head on,” she said. “I suffered a stroke, three fractures in my back, I’m actually missing a piece of my L3 vertebrae. I broke my hip in two places, and I fractured my pelvis in four places.”

Hrubes drifted in and out of consciousness for days, enduring nights of depression and years of regret.

“I had to go through speech therapy because I couldn’t count to three.”

Whatever her plans were, the doctors said “No” — until finally, she was fed up.

“I was so sick of people telling me, ‘You can’t walk, you’re never going to walk again. You’re never going to hold down a job.  You’re never going to go to school,'” she said. “It was just like, ‘Live on disability the rest of your life,’ and I just looked at them, and I was like, ‘Watch me.'”

That cold winter night, crumpled on the floorboard — Hrubes now said it’s the best thing that ever happened to her.

“I call it my second birthday,” she said. “I was reborn a different person that day, and I went after what I truly wanted to become.”

She still goes to therapy, and still deals with pain.  But once she actually got involved with welding, she started fitting in just fine.

Her message?  You don’t have to be a man to melt metal.

“I love just being a woman and succeeding and doing well at this,” Hrubes said.  “It creates such a good example.”

While she was on track to graduate in December, life threw her another curveball in March.

“It was like the most ominous situation I think I’ve ever been in,” she said. “I was with the guys, we were on our lunch break, and out of nowhere, all of our phones just started ringing.”

It was a notification from the school, letting them know classes were postponed due to the coronavirus.  What they initially thought would just be a short break turned into something much more — and while many college students were able to continue their work online, that just wasn’t possible for welding students.

“We’re doing theory on how to weld stainless steel and aluminum, and it’s great, but we want to be doing that,” she said.

Fortunately, she does have her own welding equipment at home, and she’s also working as a mechanic at SLCC’s Grounds Department — which helps her work with her hands.

The school said they’re working on a plan to get Hrubes back in the lab safely, to make up the work she’s missed.

She said she hopes she’ll still be able to graduate on time.

While so much remains up in the air, Hrubes still describes herself as being relentlessly positive.

She wants her story to serve as an example to others — that they won’t have to endure a brush with death before choosing to follow the path they feel is right.

“You can do whatever you want,” she said. “Don’t ever let anyone else tell you that you can’t do something.”

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