She hadn’t trained for this. Sarah Rodriguez had had countless hours of physically exhaustive training during her years in the Texas National Guard. She had trained for combat. She had trained for anything and everything – at least she thought she had.
But nothing had prepared her for what happened on the afternoon of December 6, 2011. Nothing prepared her for the crash that nearly took her life.
It was just another normal day; Sarah was on her way to the daycare to pick up her son. She and her husband had just put him in daycare the Friday before so that she could start working again. Sarah was excited! She had so many opportunities – so many plans! But it all that would change.
As she drove the 20 minutes to her son’s daycare, she watched the oncoming traffic whiz by. She thought to herself how nice it would be to see her after not having him home all day. Just four days ago they had been spending entire days together. But, she was excited to get back to a full-time job.
Flashing police lights ahead snapped her out of her thoughts and she was suddenly aware that something was not right. A police chase was racing in front of her, but there was just one thing wrong about it – it was coming directly toward her.
Although the military had trained her to think fast, no thinking could be fast enough to avoid a head-on collision. There was no way out, she was trapped. It was either slam into an 18-wheeler beside her, or crash head on into the car rushing toward her. In that split second, she knew a head-on crash with this driver was inevitable.
The sound of crushing metal filled her ears and everything went black for a second. The next thing she knew; she was sitting in the remains of her car on the side of the road. Her nostrils filled with the smell of smoke. Her car was on fire. The only thought in her mind was the possibility that her son and her husband would never see her again. She couldn’t do that to them. She had to escape.
She reached for the door beside her and her arm went limp. She was completely unable to move it. Her arm had to be broken. She tried to push herself with her legs, but something had pinned her down; the engine of her car trapped her legs.
The 18-wheeler driver she had nearly hit stopped his truck and got out to see if he could help. He ran over to her car and put out the flames with a fire extinguisher. He then turned his attention to Sarah. As she frantically tried to push herself out of the vehicle, he calmed her down. He told her he would call her husband for her. As the paramedics put Sarah into the ambulance, she told her husband, “I need you there. That’s all. I need you there.”
She was in the hospital for two weeks. During that time, she learned that she had a broken arm, a shattered tibia, and a snapped femur. Because of her injuries, she could barely even feed herself. So the hospital sent her to her brother’s house to recover. Sarah remembers it being emotionally and physically debilitating to be in this state. She used to be able to do anything! She was in the National Guard; she could take care of her son. Now she couldn’t even make a meal for herself.
Weeks after the crash, the doctors told her that she would need 18 months to recover. Sarah wasn’t having that. She was done with lying in bed all day and she was done with limping around. She transitioned from a wheelchair to a walker rapidly. She remembers how embarrassing it was to use a walker. “I felt like an elderly person in my 20s,” she recalled. Nevertheless, she pushed through.
Seven months later, Sarah was on her feet—without a walker and without a cane. Today she has two children and she is able to do almost everything she used to and is the mom she wants to be. She still has a lot of joint pain and she doesn’t think that she will ever fully recover from that. Emotionally, she believes she will never fully recover either.
“I don’t have nightmares anymore,” Sarah said. “But I still struggle getting behind the wheel sometimes. The fear is very real.”
But she pushes on still. Although painful, she tries to run 5K races as often as she can, and she is finally able to make it to the gym like before. She says her family was her biggest motivator to recover as quickly as possible. “It was for my son,” she said. “Not wanting him to see me like that was my biggest motivator to recover as quickly as possible.”
Sarah is now a powerful ally in the fight against drunk driving.
When asked what she would say to people who have been injured this deadly crime, Sarah said, “I can’t take the pain away from you. I can’t make it easier. But what I will say is this: continue to fight. Do what you can to make laws stricter on offenders and do what you can to get them off the streets. A lot of people are gone because of this selfish choice. They are my motivation. My crash didn’t take my life, but it did strengthen my resolve to never stop fighting to end drunk driving.”