State Rep. Darren Jernigan, D-Nashville, talks about the 1990 traffic accident that led to him becoming the only member of the state Legislature who must use a wheelchair in a Tennessean article. An excerpt:
Just a few days ago, state Rep. Jernigan won re-election to the state legislature, where he is the only member who uses a wheelchair. He won a pretty close election in a hotly contested race against the Republican he took the seat from two years ago.
But that’s nothing.
Jernigan knows something about adversity.
When Jernigan regained consciousness after the crash, only his buddy, Frye, was also awake. The two girls were knocked out.
The girl driving had blown through a stop sign going around 45 mph before smashing into the embankment, Jernigan said.
Jernigan found himself on the floorboard between the front seats, and pain was shooting through his neck.
So he tried to move his neck, but he couldn’t: “The pain is excruciating,” he said.
Jernigan practically begged his buddy to help him move his neck, offered him the $78 in his wallet. But Frye had his own issues: His back was broken, his left arm and leg were both shattered, and he later needed 18 hours of plastic surgery on his face.
…Just a few weeks earlier, the onetime star tight end for the Hunters Lane football team was a 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound fraternity brother who was having fun chasing girls.
And now, it was taking him 10 minutes to button one button on his shirt.
Jernigan had to learn how to do things such as get out of bed, brush his teeth, get into his electronic wheelchair, feed himself and go to the bathroom, all with, essentially, one good arm and hand.
“I’d get so frustrated. Earlier you’re an athlete, and now …,” he said, adding that he eventually had to make a choice.
“Some people can’t handle it and they choose to stay at home, to live off Social Security. I’m not saying it’s wrong, just that it’s a choice,” he said.
“And I choose to believe I’m more than the broken body people see.”