Why We Walk: Phaedra Marriott-Olsen

I never could imagine how much my life would change in just a matter of seconds. On May 11, 1996 everything was going as planned. My friends and I had decided to go to a concert at which we laughed, danced, and had a blast. No alcohol. No drugs. Just a group of friends enjoying life. There was never a moment that night which we felt unsafe, but I suppose that is the feeling for most victims: never suspecting until it is too late.

On the drive home, I was following behind my friend’s car. He was far enough ahead of me, that I could see his tail lights, but would sometimes lose sight of the car as we were going around a curve or up and over the hills of the very curvy highway. My friend saw the headlights coming toward him. He started to drive into the ditch to avoid the collision, but the drunk driver completely side swiped him and then continued to drive on the wrong side of the highway, around a curve, going down a hill, only to meet me. I didn’t see him coming. I didn’t get the chance to move out of the way and in a moment frozen in time, I became a victim of a drunk driver.

From that crash I sustained many injuries, both internally and externally, but the most catastrophic injury was the damage it caused to my heart. At the age of 22, I was taken into open heart surgery. From the impact of the crash, my aorta heart valve was torn leaving me with a less than 3% survival rate. My doctors did everything they could do to save my life. At one point, they had to cut off the blood supply to my lower extremities, knowing that if I survived, I would become a paraplegic. It was a risk they had to take. However difficult at times, it’s a risk I’m glad they made.

After a 124 days in the hospital, 3 weeks of being in a coma, 6 weeks of living on life support, I’m happy to say that I am a survivor. I quickly learned how to fight for life, fight for the things I love and fight for the passions that I believe in, which brought me to MADD.

Fast forward 21 years later. I’m now a 17 year employee for Mothers Against Drunk Driving as a new Program Director for Tennessee. I love Tennessee. It was always my dream to move to Nashville and I’m so very excited that I did. I often tell people, it’s the greatest city on the planet. I’m so very humbled to work alongside some of the greatest staff and the most amazing volunteers in the country. Tennessee is known to be the Volunteer State, and I’m often in awe at how amazing our volunteers are at coming together for the Mission of MADD.

This September is our Middle Tennessee Walk Like MADD event in Nashville. As the new Program Director, I’m completely honest when saying that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. However, I’m not afraid to ask for help. I’ve asked questions of the National office a zillion times. I attended the St. Louis Walk Like MADD event, I’ve talked to other directors. {On a side note, one director and I have a little football wager going and the loser (aka Jason Frazier of Arizona) has to donate to the others walk team… GO TITANS!} But most importantly is how simply by asking MADD Tennessee staff and volunteers stepped up to the plate and all worked together. Every day, I would pull up the website and watch the thermometer and do a happy dance just watch the percentage raise by 1 percent!

This week, Mille Webb, a long term volunteer and former MADD National President came into our office with her homemade cookies. We all love it when Millie brings us treats, but on this day she had an extra treat as she handed me the money she raised for her Walk team. With tears in my eyes I entered the information into the Walk website and watched as our thermometer moved past our goal line. We did it! We made goal before our event! We did this because we all worked together. MADD National, MADD Tennessee staff and the greatest volunteers on the planet!

Mark Twain once said “The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming task into small manageable tasks and then starting on the first one.”

I took that heart when working on the Walk and now, the only thing left to accomplish on my list is waiting for the Titans to win the Superbowl.

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