BEFORE MY ACCIDENT, I WAS A TENNIS PLAYER RANKED NUMBER 4 IN THE NATION. I started playing tennis when I was 3 years old. As I grew older, I played tennis along with basketball and soccer. I really liked basketball and for a while I thought I was going to pursue it, but decided that I wasn't big enough, and so I chose tennis as something I felt I could be active and successful in through college and beyond.
By the time I was 12, I had won my second Southern regional title in tennis, plus the Sportsmanship Award in Tenneesee and in the 11-state Southern section. In all I ended up winning 5 Southern titles, and soon was being exempted from playing in the state and regionals, going right on to the nationals.
My life was a grueling schedule of school, practice, and work-outs that began two hours before school started and went for two hours afterward. But I loved it, and worked hard at it, even taking extra classes so I could graduate early, looking forward to college and a career in professional tennis.
Then, unexpectedly, in June of 1994, my father died of a heart attack. He had been an athelete, too, like me. Losing him so suddenly was not something I was prepared to deal with.
It was only about 5 months later, on 13 November 1994, a cold night, that I was out at a bar, and I drank, and I decided I could drive home. It turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life. I made it to the road I lived on. And then I ran off the road and hit a tree. I was as close to death as a person can be.
I was airlifted to a local hospital and there was in a coma for three and a half months. The doctors at first didn't believe I would live, then believed I would be entirely paralyzed. Well, I had different ideas.
So here I am, hoping I can help keep others from making the mistakes I made.
It would be very difficult for any person who hasn't experienced what I've experienced since that tragic mistake to understand the adversity, the hardship, the enormous struggle, that I, and my family, have had to go through. By speaking in public, I hope to bring home to people the reality of what drinking and driving can do to a person's life.
I'm someone about whom the cliche "he had it all" is true. I did have it all, and I'm fortunate to have a loving family who has stood by me and helped me through this adversity.
Now my wish is that I can reach out to people, young and old, and keep many others from ever having to experience the consequences of drinking and driving.