On Aug. 23, 2003, Sarah Panzau was given a 0 percent chance of survival after her drunk driving crash.




Today, she tells her story of underage driving to students across the nation so they do not repeat her mistakes.


On Aug. 23, 2003, Sarah Panzau was given a 0 percent chance of survival after her drunk driving crash.

 

Today, she tells her story of underage driving to students across the nation so they do not repeat her mistakes.

 

Panzau spoke to almost 1,100 students at Dunlap High School Feb. 18, telling of her accident, her two-and-a-half month coma and her life before and after the accident.

 

“I wanted to show people that nobody was invincible,” Panzau said. “I put together a presentation on my own, and wanted to give back originally to the students in my area. I never intended to be a national motivational speaker, I just wanted to give back to my community.”

 

Panzau has been speaking to students for seven years now. The first year she did by herself before Anheuser-Busch started sponsoring her six years ago.

 

“I didn’t have a price,” she said. “I didn’t want a school to look at me and think that they couldn’t afford my presentation. My story, I thought, is too important for any student not to hear.”

 

Before the accident, she was an All-American college volleyball player at Southwest Illinois College, but dropped out and started bar-tending underage.

 

It was during this time that she drove home drunk one night and got into the accident. She was ejected from her car, which flipped four times.

 

During the ejection, her left arm got ripped off her body, and required a skin graph from her right buttocks.

 

When she told of her accident and coma, the auditorium fell completely silent, as students listened to what she had to say.

 

Senior Delia Cai said one of the biggest things she took away was how much Panzau had to deal with.

 

“Not just the physical stress, but just that all her friends, all that she had ever known was gone,” Cai said. “It also surprised me how this brought her closer to her family.”

 

While telling of the accident, Panzau asked the audience what they could do differently, and told them to call their parents if they were ever in that situation.

 

“I think I would just do as she said and call my parents,” senior Daniel Clements said. “I don’t think I’d get in as much trouble as I expect.”

 

After talking about her accident, Panzau then told of her experience of trying to get her license back, and related it to her other main point of the presentation: not judging people.

 

“My whole life I was judged because I was pretty and because I was an outstanding volleyball player,” she said.

 

“For the first time, after my car crash, I had learned what it was like to be judged on a negative aspect. I know I’m different, I know people are going to look. What I want people to understand is that I am comfortable in this body I was given. I want people to understand difference. I want people to understand there are different people out there everywhere. There’s all different types of beautiful, not just what the media portrays as being beautiful.

 

“If it’s not alcohol and drugs as the number one main problem with high schools and middle schools, it’s bullying and picking on people. Can I say that I was perfect and never did it? No. But for the first time I realized what it was like to be judged on a negative aspect.

 

“Ninety percent of us, as Americans, walk around with shades on. Think of how many friends you could possibly have if you take those shades off. That was the main message.”

 

Panzau also got a few gasps from the crowd as she told a story about two middle schoolers she found during one of her presentations. During that presentation, a sixth and seventh grader had said they felt like committing suicide because of how their classmates judged them.

 

Cai was surprised by that story because of how young they were.

 

“I had my mouth covered because it just startled me so much that kids so young would think that they were worthless,” she said. “It was just a really sad thing. But, it is good to be aware of kids that do feel like that, even if they don’t go to our school.”

 

Panzau said she tells that story to let students realize the effects that judging people can have.

 

She also told the story of how she competed with the Paralympic volleyball team in 2006, and helped the team advance past the World Games by beating Brazil in Holland. During that game, she had the most kills and digs.

 

However, before she could go to the Paralympics in Beijing, she was forced to retire due to two shoulder surgeries.

 

“I’m done,” Panzau said. “I’ve had 36 surgeries in the last seven years. I figured that door was shut. But, I’m a firm believer of when God shuts one door he opens another. My life as an athlete, I don’t think, could ever be again. My body’s too damaged. I have chronic pain. But, I figured this door is open to me now to inspire others through my words.”

 

At the end of her presentation, the entire student body stood up and applauded her.

 

“After seeing what I did for almost 1,100 students, for them to stand up and applaud me, how can you get 1,100 high school students to stand up and applaud anybody?” Panzau said.

 

“It’s not easy. But I know after doing that, I can look in the mirror at the end of the day and actually see somebody gorgeous staring back at me. I know that all this, and what I put my family through, just did not happen for no reason at all. I can now save lives with my story.”