Did This Really Happen?

Posted by Amber Collie in Life After Paralysis on July 18, 2022 # Lifestyle

Zack Collie It’s such a strange feeling when you can remember details of a day 12 years ago and not remember what you had for breakfast. It’s as if time stood still for that period. That is what a tragic, sudden accident does it gets embedded into our brains. My son’s beach accident is one of those moments in time. In some ways, it feels like a lifetime ago, yet at the same time, it feels like yesterday. Even my life presently gets separated as before Zack’s injury and after Zack’s injury. I’m not the same person, none of us are. We are still a family, but we're all forever changed by this one day.

I have told our story many times. I’ve told detailed versions and casual mentions of that day. It’s always there, I still get occasional waves of emotion or thoughts questioning, “Did that really happen?” Yes, it did happen, my son lives full time in a power wheelchair. He used to walk and run. I don’t like to dwell on this but occasionally I think about how there was a “last time” that last physical run into the ocean that day. It was his last run. He had working, active legs. Before that one moment, he was a fully abled bodied 15-year-old teenage boy. He was active and always moving.

Oldest of 4 siblings, Zack loved to wrestle the younger kids. He had this attitude of always joking around. He would forcefully walk in the front, come find me, and pick me up literally off my feet. He is 6ft. I am 5’4. He would say, “I’m home!” I’d always say, “Zack put me down!” A memory I now cherish. He liked to cause trouble but in a fun-loving way. I couldn’t keep him down, as a child he wasn’t the self-entertaining quiet child; he was the kid on the playground jumping off things and pushing his limits. Zack was always up to go and do things. Onto the next thing as soon as something finished, or he got bored. He would make plans while in the middle of doing something so he would have something to do immediately after. This would go on all day until he went to bed. I can remember being at Disneyland with Zack, he was about 6 or 7, in line waiting for a ride and he turns to me and says, “Mom what are we going to do after Disneyland?” That pretty much described Zack’s personality.

Zack and SedonaThe weekend he broke his neck was Memorial Day 2010, a Monday. He asked to go to the beach with his best friend. I said, “Zack, you have been gone all weekend already, why don’t you stay home with us? We’re going to a BBQ pool party.” He begged us about the beach. I had said it’s going to be so crowded; it’s a holiday weekend. I gave in and let him go. He was there most of the day running and swimming in the waves. They had met some other teenagers down there, had lunch, and realized they would be getting picked up very soon by the mother of Zack’s best friend Travis. They decided to go into the water one last time.

Three of the boys, including Zack, got up from the sand, all three ran towards the ocean feet running and splashing the water and then diving into the first oncoming wave. Zack hit the sand underneath him, breaking his neck and instantly becoming a paralyzed quadriplegic at the age of 15. This is the day that is embedded into my brain – May 31, 2010. It will always be an emotional day for me, but over the years I have changed my thoughts about this day, from devastated and sad to celebrating that my son survived. That he is still with us today. I can talk to him; I can hug him. This injury really did happen, but it does not mean life is over. It helps to accept that his life is changed and different, but not over. Zack has created a good life for himself despite a tragic moment in time.

My life has had many parts, I could write a book just on that section but let's fast forward to when I married Adron Collie. Two weeks after turning 20 (yes, very young!) I had Zackery at age 22, Levi at 24, six years later Kaden, and 18 months after that daughter Laila, making me a busy mother of four. At that time, I also ran a photography business. The year Zack was injured I had a child in Preschool, Elementary, Jr. High and High School. Four kids in four schools! I thought I was so busy, just getting their drop off and pick up times correct was a challenge. I have to laugh now thinking back on that because little did I know my life was just about to turn upside down.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.