“The Race of My Life,” Ensign, Jan. 1994, 49
Before my call to serve as a full-time missionary, I ran on my school’s track team in Las Vegas and was used to a challenging practice schedule. Then my mission presented me with spiritual challenges as I helped people accept the gospel. But the challenges I was to face as the result of a mission baseball accident surpassed any I had struggled with before.
My companion and I had set up a fellowshipping activity in Winnebago, Nebraska, where we were serving. Part of the day included a baseball game. During the game, while I was trying to catch a ball hit into right field, I collided with the second baseman and received internal head injuries. Although no one, including me, understood the severity of my injury, I was given a priesthood blessing by my companion and another elder. A missionary couple then drove me to a hospital in Sioux City, Iowa.
At the hospital, and in a great deal of pain, I spoke to the doctor, then went into a coma. I remained in the coma for forty days.
The next thing I remembered was waking up in complete darkness. I could hear the voices of my friends, doctors, and parents whispering that someone was dying. Then, horrified, I realized they were talking about me. The neurosurgeon told my mother I had a 15 percent chance of living. Scared by what I heard, I prayed that God would not let me die.
Because I couldn’t see, talk, or move, I had no way to let people know that I could hear them. I heard my father say, “If you can hear me, blink or move a finger.” But I couldn’t move even my finger.
Experiences in my life had let me know that God existed. I was grateful for these past experiences, because they helped me to never give up, even when my prayers for recovery seemed to bring little change. In the dark, unable to communicate with anyone but God, I knew that he was my only chance of survival. So I continued to pray.
Although most of my physical needs were attended to by my mother and nurses, I relied on God for many things. At one point, I became severely dehydrated. I could not open my mouth, although I was very thirsty. I had prayed to be able to drink, but so far my attempts hadn’t been successful. One morning a nurse told me she was going to make me drink water, even if I drowned.
She was right; I almost did drown. But somehow the water slid down my throat. From then on, I was able to drink plenty of water. Never had it tasted so good. My prayers had been answered.
During this time, my mother moved to Provo, where I would join her when I was well enough to be released. My home ward in Las Vegas and my new ward in Provo were praying and fasting for my recovery. Our prayers were answered as my situation began to improve, until eventually I could communicate with basic sounds and movements. I wrote on paper to communicate, although my writing was often difficult to decipher. After three months, the doctor agreed to allow me to move to Provo, where I continued the physical therapy I had begun in Iowa.
Once in Provo, I enrolled in the Brigham Young University speech therapy program to improve my speaking. When I tried to speak, I felt as if my mouth was full of fingers. I was often misunderstood by others and was labeled emotionally handicapped because I couldn’t control my laughter whenever silence was required. Well-meaning people frequently patted me on the head and talked down to me, not realizing that inside my crippled body was a normal, intelligent adult. I tried to stay optimistic about my situation, but sometimes I wondered why this accident, and the resulting trials, had happened to me.
I learned something about my challenges when I received a blessing after my release from the hospital. I was told that the Lord allowed this accident to happen to prepare me for my greater mission in life. Although I didn’t know what that mission would be, I knew the blessing was true. Knowing that I could overcome these challenges and that the Lord had a purpose for me strengthened my faith.
I struggled to compensate for my physical and emotional shortcomings by re-learning how to play the piano, how to walk, and how to run. I had taken piano lessons as a child, and I found that I still remembered much of what I’d learned. Walking and running were more difficult tasks, however. I needed help even to get out of bed. When I forced myself out of bed and tried to walk, I fell on the floor. I was deeply depressed by this defeat, and I wanted to surrender to the challenges I faced. But my mother reminded me that God was there for me if I would just ask for his help.
I began to pray that I would have the strength, determination, and assistance I needed to walk on my own. My first successful journey—a walk to the bathroom—took two and a half hours as I worked myself out of bed and inched my way around the room against the wall. I was grateful for the freedom this success offered me. I thanked God for giving me the strength to walk on my own.
Although I still couldn’t walk well, I had a strong desire to start running again. Not even my family took me seriously when I expressed this hope. But the next time I went to the doctor, he said I had improved so much that I could start jogging. My brother Chuck brought me to the track and tied a towel around my waist so he could support me as I stumbled around the track for the first time.
After three weeks, I was able to run a fifteen-minute mile with my brother’s assistance. I felt the Lord supporting me and giving me the determination to press on. I was beginning to see the strength that faith can bestow. Every night I thanked God for the miracles occurring in my life. I had nearly died after the accident, yet now I could run!
A short time later I was able to run five miles a day without being held up. I wanted to run with the BYU track team; it was my dream. I began to pray that I would be allowed to run. My prayers were answered when my bishop called to say he had talked with the track coach and received permission for me to run on the team. Though I was proud to wear the uniform, I was constantly embarrassed by finishing last during daily workouts and in meets.
It was difficult to see the ground because I was challenged with double vision, so I often fell while running. Yet before each workout I prayed that God would help me put my feet down in the right places. The Lord blessed me, and my faith and trust in God and my confidence in myself were fortified by these experiences. Despite the fact that I always came in last at track meets, I forced myself to finish each race in order to show appreciation for the help God was giving me. Many months had gone by since my first tearful prayer to be healed. Now, one step at a time, I was realizing answers to my prayers.
I continued training after the track season ended, making the three-mile run up “Y” Mountain and back to the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse each day. When track season began again, no one knew how prepared I was for the run up “Y” Mountain. The run was easy, and I took first place. With tears in my eyes, I expressed my gratitude to God for making this possible.
My recovery continued, and I offered many prayers of pleading and thanks along the way. Whenever I was depressed, I thought about the miracles that God had given me. How could I give up when he had helped me so much?
I transferred to Weber State College in Ogden, Utah, to obtain a degree in physical education and teaching. I also earned B.S. and B.G.S. degrees at the International College of Behavioral Genetics. At Weber, I signed up for an intramural track team and took home four trophies at one meet. Later, I was asked to join the college track team.
After completing my schooling, I began helping people work out problems in their lives. This has brought great satisfaction to my life, and I feel that the Lord is pleased with my work. Because of my experiences, I am better able to help others deal with problems and come out of them as stronger people.
I still have challenges, like a speech impediment that causes some people to think I’m intellectually impaired, but I know that God can help us bring good out of our problems. I’ve learned that God blesses us with the ability to overcome great challenges if we have faith in him.