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A few weeks ago, I posted a photo and comments on Facebook about an ATV accident I had as a child. Many people have asked me to share that post as a column. I struggled with posting it to Facebook, and the decision to rewrite it as an article was difficult. But as the weather gets warmer and more and more people are putting around on four-wheelers and side-by-sides, I think it might be time well spent.
Most of you don’t know this about me, but I was in a terrible ATV accident when I was six. I thank God every day that I not only survived but overcame many obstacles to even be able to walk, play sports and act as if it never happened.
Let me tell you...I know what a gravel road smells and tastes like. I know what the weight of a Honda 350 three-wheeler feels like as it bounces off of you. I know what 12 days in full traction feels like. I know what it’s like to spend months in a cast that goes all the way down one leg, half way down the other, and half way up my torso with a hole cut out (you can guess why).
My parents know what it’s like to see my bone pushing against my skin. They saw the gravel embedded in my face and hair. They sat in the dark, cold hospital room as they checked me from head to toe to make sure I didn’t have a head injury or internal injuries. A full body scan in a giant machine that clanked is scary to a child. My mom cried many times. While my dad was tough, I remember seeing his eyes filled with tears when he saw me in traction.
I missed four months of the first grade, and to make sure I didn’t get behind, Mrs. Levin came to my house twice a week to teach me new material and make sure I was progressing. To get around, I scooted on the floor using my arms to pull myself or else my parents had to carry me.
I still remember what happened. I can tell you everything about that cool, fall night. I know what I was wearing. Today, other than the memories, I have a growth difference in my legs and a few spots on my cheek where the rocks dug in or scraped me. More importantly, I learned the value of determination at a young age. My parents learned to issue challenges to motivate me. (Yes, you can thank them.)
Before I wrote the Facebook post, I didn’t know what my parents thought or how they felt. We’d never talked about it. My mom was the first person to ask me about why I never brought it up. I told her I remember how concerned she would be when she picked me up after school, always asking how my leg felt before playing 20 questions about my day and what I learned. I told her I remember how upset she was and I didn’t want her to feel bad. I still haven’t talked to my dad. I don’t know if we ever will. We kind of have an understanding. If something bothers us, we don’t talk about it. We just play catch. It’s an unspoken thing, and that’s our way of saying, “You good?”
My bothers have talked about it with dad. I have a feeling it was something like him warning them of what can happen if you aren’t careful mixed with his own feelings about what had happened. Remembering the look on his face, I don’t know if he’s ever forgiven himself for what happened. But it wasn’t his fault, and I don’t blame him. I had been on the three-wheeler many times. I loved to go fast and had never had any problems handling it. I begged my dad to let me drive it. He argued and told me I could ride with him or Andy because we were at my grandparents’ and not the park behind our house. I told him I was big enough and knew what to do. I may or may not have thrown the “just because I’m a girl” card.
He finally caved. My dad made sure I had a helmet on correctly, and we went over and over what to do. Mom was in the house and he told me to be very careful because mom would be mad if I got hurt.
I made a couple successful passes around the pasture, and I decided I could go a little faster. I rode too close to the road and panicked. Rather than lay off the gas, I closed my eyes. I flipped the three-wheeler off a 6-foot embankment, landing on a gravel road. It bounced off me and landed next to me. The next few minutes are a blur. I just remember mom asking dad what were going to do about my school pictures the next day, and dad telling her he didn’t think I’d be going to school. That was actually kind of funny.
As a college student, I visited the hospital for a kinesiology project. I read my chart and asked questions of the doctor and nurses. They read the charts and looked at the x-rays. Then, they glanced at me with a puzzled look. I should not have walked away. I should not have been able to accomplish physically what I have, and yet, I did.
I don’t know why some people have accidents like this and make it and others don’t, but I do know I’m thankful my parents made me wear a helmet every time I rode. It also tells me I have a purpose, and I owe it to those who have gone to fulfill it.
Parents, please encourage your kids to drive ATVs responsibly and always wear a helmet. And it’s ok to jump them for not following safety rules. If my dad wouldn’t have made me wear a helmet, I wouldn’t be here.