By Sally McGruire
On the evening of Feb. 12, Southwestern students along with some of the Winfield community had the opportunity to hear renowned speaker Sarah Panzau talk about drunk driving through personal experiences. Panzau was originally scheduled to speak at Builder Camp. “In my opinion, if she could’ve come to Builder Camp it would’ve been awesome,” said Erin Morton, elementary education freshman, “She would’ve helped all the freshmen because you come into college thinking “party” every weekend, and she expressed how that’s not the life of a college student.”
The presentation began with a slideshow about Panzau before her accident, of which were all pictures of her volleyball triumphs. A final picture flickered on and off the slideshow, and this photograph was a gruesome picture of the accident. Panzau entered the room at this point, immediately listing all of her injuries that resulted from this accident. “We live like we’re never gonna die,” she said, “and that night I chose to drink and drive.”
Panzau gave a small biography of her life before her crash; she was a three year varsity starter for her high school volleyball team in Illinois. She turned down about 20 offers from colleges because she wanted to stay at the junior college she was enrolled in, but after two years of this college, she dropped out for two reasons. “College was hard,” she explained. “I just gave up.”
After this, she became a bartender at age 19.
Panzau then explained the importance of true friends, saying that she didn’t have any. She asked the audience what friends are supposed to do and be like, and loyalty and trust were suggested. The people she was with the night of the crash, consequently, allowed her to leave the place she was drinking at, knowing she was intoxicated. However, Panzau said she has accepted full responsibility of her actions.
Panzau talked for a moment about the relationship between herself and her mother. “I used to call her the spawn of Satan. We were seriously like oil and water,” she said.
Then she tearfully described the point when the police came to her home, wanting her mother to identify Panzau’s body. The officers said at that point, there was a zero percent chance of survival for Panzau. She said, “What I put my mother through still haunts me to this day.”
Then she asked the audience to put themselves into the position of a parents being asked to identify their child’s body.
Keeping the idea of family in mind, Panzau said family should be your number one priority. For three weeks, Panzau was in a medically induced coma, and she said her mother never left her side but only a couple of times when she had to be dragged away by other members of her family.
“People can be lucky”, said Panzau. “You make poor choices, bad things will happen.”
She asked the audience who they would call if they needed a ride in a situation that involved alcohol. She asked if they would try calling their coach or parents. Panzau said, “We wouldn’t because we fear the consequences”
Panzau then went back to talking about her past. She kept a healthy body, and that’s one of the things that helped her survive the crash. Still, she had to have many surgeries to repair her once fit body. Her first surgery was ten and a half hours, and it consisted of having skin graphs from her legs and her buttocks which were placed on her amputated arm. “I do have my butt on my arm,” she said, pointing to parts of her left arm.
“Beauty is only skin deep, and someone who judges isn’t happy with themselves,” she said while explaining her daily torment of stares and fingers being pointed. But now, as she gets to travel around the country and tell her story, she believes that we learn best from other people’s mistakes.
Panzau concluded by talking about being on the U.S. Women’s Paralympics Volleyball Team, and travelling to the Netherlands in 2006. Proudly holding her jersey, she said, “There in a match against Brazil, I was recorded for having the most digs and kills for the U.S. team. I was the only one on the team with one arm.”
As people left the presentation, they had the opportunity to talk to Panzau and take dog tags saying, “Choices matter, I’m living proof” with Panzau’s name on it.
“I like the fact that she was so blunt and honest about everything,” said Lindsey Knack, athletic training senior. Panzau, told her story in detail, making her account of her accident seem as though the audience experienced it firsthand. So while Panzau wasn’t able to speak at Builder Camp, she still made a positive impression on those who came to the presentation.