Schaefer to return to location of tragic accident 

Kelly Schaefer

By John Rohlf

The Message assistant editor 

Twenty-five years ago, Kelly Schaefer was involved in a car accident in Colorado that left her paralyzed in both of her arms and both of her legs. She is now planning to return to Colorado in an effort to meet with the driver involved in the accident and to create happy memories in “a tragic place.”                                                           

A fifth grade teacher at Holy Trinity School in Jasper, Schaefer is one of three teachers at schools in the Diocese of Evansville to receive a Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship grant. Schaefer’s total grant came in just under $15,000 and will cover travel, lodging and activities when she takes her trip to Colorado this summer. 

Schaefer stressed Colorado is “such a beautiful place and offers so much.” She wants to take her family to Colorado and create new memories there. She also hopes to meet with the drunk driver who was behind the wheel of another vehicle in her car accident 25 years ago. The driver was going 75 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone with a Blood Alcohol Level of 0.18, according to Schaefer’s application. He currently resides in Durango, Colorado, which is about six hours from Denver, Schaefer said. 

“My hope is to meet halfway and have lunch. And talk about forgiveness, talk about consequences and offer my forgiveness to him,” Schaefer said. “And hopefully that will help his healing. And just tell him that he’s human and we make mistakes. And get to know him as a person instead of as a criminal. That’s my goal. If he reaches out to me, that’s up to him. But I’d like to know I’ve done everything I can to reach out to him to try to make that happen.” 

The accident occurred during the summer between Schaefer’s freshman and sophomore years, when she was in the midst of her education at Indiana University. Prior to the accident, Schaefer always wanted to become a teacher. She was majoring in elementary education before the accident happened. 

After the accident, Schaefer “questioned a lot of things.” She questioned what her life would be and how long she would have, as well as whether she should even go back to school. She said she decided to keep pursuing elementary education because “that’s all I’ve ever known.” If it did not work out, she was prepared to pivot to an alternate plan. 

“After my student teaching experience, it was really a great experience and I knew I could do it,” Schaefer said. “That was all I needed to know that this was the job for me. But being in a wheelchair does make it obviously more difficult. It makes everything more difficult. But I’d like to think that my creativity compensates for my disability. And so I just figure things out.”

Schaefer, who is in her 19th year of teaching, said it has been “everything I’ve ever wanted.” She said it is one of the things that really empowers her. 

“I feel good at it. I feel capable and I can’t really say that about a lot of things in life,” Schaefer said. “But when I’m teaching, I feel on top of the world.”

Schaefer believes through her experience with the accident, she is able to speak to the concept of forgiveness. The students can witness firsthand how she handled the adversity. She also does public speaking and thinks she can extend the example of forgiveness to other audiences. 

She believes the trip will offer her personal renewal. 

“I just feel that who doesn’t want to take time out of their life to go to a beautiful place and just enjoy God’s creation,” Schaefer said. “Just have good food, be around great people.”

Schaefer thinks dealing with adversity is a personal journey. She stressed she does not think there is one right way to do it. She said what worked for her was to keep moving forward and approach things one step at a time. She credited her parents’ example of looking at what was next for Schaefer after the accident. 

She also stressed the importance of having positive people in someone’s life to deal with adverse situations. 

“We can’t change what happened,” Schaefer said. “We just have to keep moving forward and knowing that you’re not alone in the journey. Christ is obviously always with you. But in addition to that, there’s people that are struggling all over the world. And some situations, they might look at my situation and say this is still minor. So everybody has something. And that’s what we have to remind ourselves is that everybody struggles, just in different ways.”