WESTMINSTER >> You could literally hear a pin drop in the filled to capacity auditorium when Canadian guest speaker, Kevin Brooks, came to Bellows Falls Union High School and took students through his journey of from an active athlete and senior in high school to being paralyzed from the chest down and bound to a wheel chair for the rest of his life.
His heartfelt, real-life account of what it was like to survive a horrific car accident and find out weeks later that his passenger did not make it, resonated throughout the auditorium. The day that changed his life forever involved alcohol, excessive speed, fearlessness, and the decision to drive while intoxicated rather than walk like some of his friends did that night. His guilt and overwhelming sadness led him to thoughts of suicide. In disbelief, Brooks spoke about his passenger who died.
"Brendon and I grew up together. Our families spent so much time at the hockey rink and on road trips. Our parents always got along well, and Brendon's parents were always good to me. I kept asking why I survived and he didn't."
He connected with students, taking them through what was real for him. He talked about how before the accident he went from feeling larger than life, that nothing could stop him, to the realization of not knowing if he would get off life support. He had to work hard to teach himself things he took for granted, like how to talk again and how to feed himself, to becoming completely independent in a wheelchair, dressing himself, driving himself, getting on a plane to come to speak here in Vermont. Brooks said that the support he received from his family and friends, including the parents of the his friend Brendon, is what kept him alive.
"Facing Brendon's parents was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life even with their support. They truly gave me another chance, and I knew I had to do something positive with it. They also taught me an invaluable lesson in forgiveness"
At the end of his presentation, Brooks captivated the Bellows Falls teens with his slideshow of photos of him as a child, skateboarding, snowboarding, playing hockey, and running and playing like any other child. He dedicating his speech to his fallen friend Brendon, and two other friends who lost their lives early by displaying three chairs on stage for them. Brooks encouraged the students to look at him and truly understand the consequences of just one poor decision. He offered them advice for when things seem to get out of control.
"Every now and then, just wiggle your toes, because you can."
The Kevin Brooks speaking event was sponsored by the Greater Falls Connections and the Bellows Falls Union High School's "Above the Influence" student group. The SAP (Student Assistance Program) Coordinator, Heather Waryas, coordinated the event.
Suzanne Groenewold can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.