Many young people feel they’re indestructible. They simply can’t imagine anything really bad ever happening to them. That’s one reason why many of them take careless risks. They won’t get hurt. That’s for other people.
In fact, injury takes the lives of more young people than all other causes of death combined. SMARTRISK Heroes travels to high schools across Canada, trying to help young people see that a traumatic injury CAN happen to them but that they can avoid injury by taking smart risks. This hour-long presentation features concert-style music and lighting along with a fast-paced DVD that opens with action-filled shots of young people having fun and taking (smart) risks.
The DVD switches to more sombre shots of youth injured after making bad choices and moving vignettes of several of these people describing how they were hurt. The heart of the show is a live presentation by an injury survivor. The survivor describes how he or she got hurt and explains how young people can make choices to minimize their chances of injury.
Recently, SMARTRISK added a powerful new vignette to its DVD: the story of 17-year-old Sean Fowler of Fort Erie, ON, who describes how he lost his left arm and leg to a train in 2004. The funding to produce this vignette was provided by Direction 2006, a coalition of groups working to reduce highway/railway crossing collisions and trespassing incidents by 50 per cent by 2006. CN, a coalition partner, is also a sponsor of the SMARTRISK Heroes show.
Sean speaks powerfully about his injury in an effort to help other youth make better choices. Here are edited excerpts from Sean’s vignette:
“I never really thought I could be hurt. I thought I was pretty indestructible. I never really thought of risks; most things I did on impulse.
“It was a Friday after school and I was walking home. The train tracks are a very popular shortcut. There was a train there, and it had just started to go as soon as I got to the tracks so I stopped and I waited. After about five minutes I just said ‘Screw it. I gotta get home’ because it was my best friend’s birthday party that night. My other friends had already gone across it, so if your friends are doing something you gotta do it too, right?
“I hopped on the train and in between the two cars that I was hopping, the platform was a little bit wet and I slipped and started to fall forward. One of my friends said my backpack strap got caught on a rail and it sort of twisted me so that I was parallel to the tracks and not across them. So luckily I only got cut in half this way (lengthwise), not this way (crosswise).
“I think it really hit me when my mom was there, and she saw me like that.
She was screaming a lot, trying to get close to me. It took four firefighters to keep her away from me. I didn’t think it was that bad. I thought they could just re-attach everything ‘cause I’ve seen stuff like that on TV. But it didn’t work like that.”
Sean describes his grief and anger at himself for not having crossed the bridge or waited for the train, noting that he could have made many choices that would have prevented his injury. He speaks of how he hopped trains in the past to avoid being seen as a “wuss”.
Sean relates how he misses playing video games, a loss that hits home with many of today’s young people. His driver’s license was taken away and many of his former friends have stopped spending time with him.
Still, Sean says he’s lucky he survived, noting he almost bled to death on the tracks. And today Sean is helping other young Canadians to understand the risks posed by trespassing on railway tracks. Direction 2006, Operation Lifesaver and SMARTRISK are grateful to Sean for telling his story and helping youth learn to make smart choices.
For more information on SMARTRISK Heroes, please see www.smartrisk.ca or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view an online version of the vingnette featuring Sean, please visit smartrisk.railcan.ca.
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