Lessons from life in hell

by • September 24, 2013 • Safety MattersComments (0)317

After serious four-wheeler crash, Tracy Bennett appreciates life anew

Tracy Bennett today. Robert Shelton

Tracy Bennett today. Robert Shelton

At 41, Tracy Bennett felt like he had the world by the balls. He feared nothing, and could do anything he put his mind to. Skiing, snowmachining, motorcycles, four-wheelers: Life was grand, and he was doing it all.

Working to fund his ambitions as a professional race-car driver, he came to Alaska in May 2007 to work as a heavy equipment hauler. A happy-go-lucky guy, he made friends easy but admits, “I was off the hook. I’m not a big drinker and don’t use drugs because life is my high, but I liked to party and took a lot of insane chances.”

On Sept. 23, 2007, Bennett hopped on his 660 Raptor four-wheeler and headed out with friends for an afternoon ride around Wasilla.

“We were cruising around stopping at places to eat and drink. Just having a good time,” he said.

He had just two beers over the course of the evening – something he’d done hundreds of times before. He hopped on his machine and took off down Knik Goose Bay Road at over 90 mph.

After the accident. Cyndy Freese

After the accident. Cyndy Freese

When a police cruiser started to pursue him, his only thought was the impact a ticket like this would have on his job as a commercial driver.

His mind focused on escape, Bennett took off, until he turned a corner on Edlund Road at 75 mph and his four-wheeler flipped.

Bennett’s next clear memories came a month later as he woke up in a hospital bed in Washington with screws, pins and bolts holding his pelvis together.

“They told me I was never going to walk again. I’d broken my pelvis in three places, shattered my sacrum and shoulder, screwed up my knees,” he said. “I was a mess.”

For days he lay in that bed and cried.

“I kept thinking about all the things I used to be able to do. And now I couldn’t make it to the toilet five feet away without help. It makes you humble, for sure.”

Bennett admits he’s stubborn and his mother, a nurse and tough lady he and his siblings fondly refer to as ‘General,’ taught him to never give up.

“If the horse bucks you off, son, you’ll never win if you don’t get back up on it,” she would say.

And so he did. Shoving away the depression that seized him those first few days after he’d learned his fate, he began to fight. With every ounce of determination he could muster, Bennett worked his way out of the bed and back onto his feet. Today you’d never guess that he’d been through that ‘living in hell,’ as he calls it, just by looking at him. His tall, slender physique and lithe movements belie the painful road to recovery he’d he lived through.

But he will tell you he can’t sleep at night because of the flashbacks.

“I know and see things now that are tough to deal with,” he said, shaking his head sadly. “I have died three times in my life. Once when I was 3 and drank poison that had been stored in a Coke can, and twice when I was in my wheeler accident; the first time in the helicopter transport from Mat-Su Regional to Providence Hospital, and then again at Providence.

“They were able to bring me back, but that does things to you. It’s definitely changed me. I don’t know why I keep coming back, but it makes me want to share my story to try and save someone else from having to live in the hell I went through.”

Dozens of surgeries, months and years of therapy and hundreds of thousands of dollars later, Bennett is no longer dreaming of a race-car career. He moves with measured steps and is thoughtful about the decisions he makes. He’s grateful for his inner strength and resilience that has made it possible for him to beat the odds and walk again, but he knows his life will never be the fun, carefree existence of his past.

“For some people like me, I guess it takes going through something like this to make you understand just how lucky you are – and how fast it can all change if you don’t take the time to consider your decisions,” he said.

“Now I tell kids, don’t just do stuff. Be thoughtful about what you’re doing. Listen to an experience like mine and use your head so you don’t have to actually live through a horror like I did. Don’t think, ‘oh it’s just two beers.’ No it’s not. Keep it simple. Don’t drink and try to drive. Period. And wear a helmet.” ◆

 

Be prepared with Emergency Expo

Have you ever been with someone or arrived first on scene where someone was seriously injured like Tracy Bennett? Did you, or would you, know what to do?

Learn to be prepared for your adventures at a free Emergency Safety Expo, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sept. 14 at Mat-Su College.

There will be hands-on activities to help you learn, practice and prepare for any emergency or disaster. Sponsors include Team CC, Sponsor of the ATV/Snowmobile disaster challenge.

Register as a sponsor, an exhibitor, nonprofit, volunteer or participant.

Go to the North America Outdoor Institute website to register at www.naoiak.org, or call (907) 376-2898.

 

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