Kennedy Rhodes is a pretty typical 15-year-old. The grade 10 student is on Central Memorial High School’s track and field, wrestling, basketball and badminton teams in Calgary. She is also active in Scouts Canada and is taking up the cello. And she does it all with an artificial leg.
Kennedy lost her left leg when she was just 13—all because she made a dangerous, and almost tragic, decision. On May 20, 2016, she was with some friends in central Calgary when she tried to hop onto a moving freight train. It was her first attempt at train-hopping, and she was lucky to get away with her life.
Recently, she appeared in a new video for the War Amps in hopes of preventing others from sustaining similar injuries. Here, she recounts her story for Operation Lifesaver.
How did you end up trying to jump on a train that day?
Well, it was the Friday of the May long weekend. A bunch of my friends and I were all just hanging out. Earlier, we were walking along the tops of fences, and I was too scared to do that, so I figured I would try to do something that still scared me, but not as much, just to prove to myself that I’m not some scaredy-cat. My friends had told me about train hopping—how they’d done it and everything was fine—so I figured that it would be the same for me.
There was a route to get to the train tracks that one of the boys knew pretty well. So that boy and I went down to the tracks, right past a “no trespassing” sign. At the time, I wasn’t really scared about getting injured. I was more worried about getting into legal trouble because I was just learning about the legal system at school. I was like, “Oh man, I’m going to go to juvie, I’m going to get in so much trouble if I get caught.” So, I figured I would just go quickly and get it over with.
What went through your mind as you were about to try to jump on the train?
I was pretty nervous. I was trying to figure out how to actually get on because the train was moving a little bit faster than I had anticipated. But I figured it wouldn’t be too bad.
The boy went first and he just kind of ran alongside the train and hopped onto the ladder on the side of the train car. He did it perfectly. I tried to do the same thing and ran alongside the train. I managed to line myself up with the ladder and grabbed on, but when I went to pull myself up the train was going a little too fast, so it started to drag me. When that happened, I freaked out and let go.
But I stood up and I was like, “OK, I can do better,” and I tried again. The second time, it dragged me again and that’s when my leg went under the wheels. As soon as I knew the train had hit me, I let go.
What happened after you let go of the train?
I heard two train cars run over my leg and I pulled it out. I had this moment of “This can’t be happening, this can’t be real,” and I started yelling for help. I instantly went into shock and I couldn’t feel a thing, which I’m pretty thankful for. It felt almost like I was in this weird limbo for a minute, like things were kind of in slow motion.
When I let go, that’s when I realized how bad it was. Thankfully, I was wearing long, thick leggings so I couldn’t really see the extent of my injuries. I didn’t look down at my leg too much because I didn’t want to freak myself out. But I tried to keep my leg up the best I could, because I knew the rocks were really dirty, which is kind of funny in retrospect; I wasn’t thinking about my future or anything like that, I was just concerned about getting dirt in my wound. I started yelling for help. My friend jumped off, ran back to me and said he was going to go get help. And he left me there alone.
That must have been terrifying, sitting there by yourself.
It was. I was lying there with my leg up, practically bleeding out, and I kept yelling for help. Thankfully, these people from a third-floor balcony apartment heard me and called an ambulance. They all came out of their apartment and ran down next to me and I was just lying on the ground with my eyes closed, trying not to think about it too much. But I knew they were going to amputate my leg as soon as it happened. I even said to the people, “They’re going to amputate it, it’s going to be gone, I’m not going to be the same again,” and I remember them trying to be reassuring, saying, “No, they’re not, you’re going to keep your leg, everything is going to be fine.” But I already knew.
Has what happened to you changed your friends’ behaviours and how they view train hopping?
As far as I know, they haven’t done it since, which I’m very happy about, because something like train hopping… Well, I was lucky that I got away with my life, because I’ve heard of people dying on the side of the tracks, which is something too horrible to even imagine. So, I’m very glad my friends have stopped.
You’ve spoken publicly about your accident, both to the media and to the public as a War Amps spokesperson. Why did you decide to share your story?
Because I hope that my story can make a difference. I don’t want somebody dying on the side of the tracks. And having been so close to that happening for me, I care deeply that anybody could potentially go through that, or that their families could go through that. I’m just hoping I can save even one life. I know in the grand scheme of things one life may not seem super important compared to the 7 billion on the earth. But to one family, it can mean the world.