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Fueled by Determination

By Amy Collett

rickI came across this story the other day while looking for something totally unrelated. My mother in-law wrote it just months before passing away in September 2004. It is a story about her son and the accident he had when driving home from Furman University in 1990.

A young man headed home from college one Saturday afternoon when the driver side of his jeep was struck by a pickup driven by an elderly man who had run a stop sign. It killed the elderly man instantly. The jeep was shoved several feet off the highway into the yard of a home. It then flipped over and caught on fire. The young man was unconscious and seat belted with his feet surrounded by and in a blaze of fire. Mr. Bob Broadrick, from LaFayette, Ga., was traveling by just after the accident occurred. Mr. Broadrick did not think of himself. He stopped, jumped out of his vehicle and ran to the burning jeep. When he could not get the seatbelt to release, he used his pocket knife and cut the belt. He then pulled the man several feet from the jeep; just far enough away. Seconds later the jeep exploded. He later told the young man’s mother, that he had killed hogs in the past but had never seen such a broken body nor heard such mournful sounds. After the homeowner had called an ambulance, Mr. Broadrick found the young man’s identification — Rick Collett of LaFayette.

Rick was first taken to Gordon County Medical Center in Calhoun, Ga., and then transported immediately to Floyd County Hospital Trauma Center in Rome, Ga., where he underwent surgery to install a steel rod in his left femur, which was completely shattered in the accident. His feet were severely burned from the top of his loafers to the bottom of his jeans. A plastic surgeon told us that it would be several weeks or months before the feet could have necessary skin grafts. After two weeks, we were told that we could go to our home in LaFayette if we could have a qualified person clean, medicate and dress Rick’s feet two times each and every day until the tissues were healthy enough for surgery. Denise Ray, an RN and Director of Contin-U-Care of Chattanooga lived in LaFayette. She had gone to school with Rick’s sister and was considered our good friend. We quickly added “angel” and “miracle worker” to Denise’s “good friend” status. She came to our home each morning on her way to work and again each evening after work a period of two months.

A couple of weeks after the accident, Rick celebrated his 21st birthday in a hospital bed in our home. He worked out his upper body each day with a trapeze bar attachment. He was soon able to get himself out of bed and into a wheelchair. He would struggle to stand up with a walker; then he graduated to crutches. After the skin grafting, (they removed skin from his thighs and grafted it to his feet tops) he was able to get around with remarkable speed using crutches. He drove himself to Chattanooga several times a week for physical therapy. The “learning to walk again” in water was very painful. He said he would imagine he was on the McCallie Football Field and knew if he didn’t keep going he would be letting Coach Evans and Coach Potter down.

Sixteen months after the accident, Rick was walking tall as he crossed a Furman University platform to receive his diploma. In 2004, Rick flew to San Francisco and completed the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon (1.5 mile swim from Alcatraz to San Francisco shore, 15 mile bike ride, and 8 mile run). With faith, determination, and training, he proved that our bodies can withstand a lot.

rickTo add to the story, when I met Rick in 1991 he was still on crutches. He had managed to break the metal rod the surgeons had placed in his leg while the shattered left femur healed. The way he broke the rod? He was, of course, trying to run again! He had another surgery for the surgeons to replace the broken rod with another rod. To this day, he manages the pain resulting from the accident without complaint. As a result of the shattered femur, he has a ½ inch leg length discrepancy. 

Rick received his Master’s degree in Healthcare Administration from Armstrong State University in Savannah. He and I currently own BrightStar Care of Chattanooga which provides homecare, including elder care, childcare and qualified caregivers along with medical staffing solutions in Chattanooga. Out of 261 franchisees located across the nation, we were selected as “Brand Advocated of the Year” by the BrightStar Corporate team (mentioned in the March Furman Magazine).

He passed along the love of competing in triathlons to me and we both completed the half Ironman in Florida (among many others) while he was training for the Ironman Florida event, which he finished in 13:28. Unless you have trained and completed a triathlon, you cannot begin to realize the faith, determination and commitment required to do so. These traits got Rick through his rehabilitation after his accident and are still present as a parent and a business professional. It goes to show to someone like me who witnesses his courage every day that we can overcome obstacles placed in our path, and we can choose how to handle them as well.  He is an inspiration to me and many others.