Three empty chairs are set beside Kevin Brooks facing the audience.
They’re place holders for three friends who died – one from suicide and one from violence. The third is for his friend Brendon who died June 24, 2000, the one-too-many Saturday nights Brooks drove drunk and crashed his 1991 Chevy Z-24 Cavalier.
Brooks didn’t walk away from the crash either. From his wheelchair Thursday, he shows his audience of Wellington Secondary School students the golf ball-size scar in is throat from the breathing tube that fed his lungs for weeks to keep him alive. When he woke up in the hospital, he couldn’t understand why he couldn’t feel his body, move, swallow, talk or scream.
“It must be the morphine,” he thought.
Brooks is paralyzed from the chest down.
It was weeks before his mother told him his friend was killed in the crash.
The first time doctors disconnected the breathing tube, he took two breaths and had no strength left to take a third. He panicked, hoping his doctors would realize he was suffocating and reconnect the tube.
He went through this routine for weeks, each day taking a few more breathes until his lungs built strength enough to breath on their own.
He would never play hockey, skateboard, snowboard or play with his little sister in a park again. When he thought he’d lost everything, he considered suicide.
Support from his family and the support and forgiveness of the family of his friend who died in his car that night got him through.
“I believe life isn’t about what happened. It’s about what happens next,” he said.
Brooks, 32, has turned tragedy into a positive message for young people.
For 10 years he has spoken at schools, youth programs and conferences across North America, talking to young people to help them find ways to cherish their youth and day to day lives no matter how tough things get. To stop drinking and driving, to avoid drugs and suicide.
His speaking tours are sponsored by ICBC.
Brooks’s message is to live smart and live life to the fullest, but not put yourself in a bad situation.
“I’m that guy who did put himself and a lot of others in that situation by driving drunk, crashing, losing a friend in the process and paralyzing myself,” Brooks told the News Bulletin. “So I share this story. I’m pretty blunt, I’m pretty up front, but that’s what they need to hear and they’re hearing it, that’s the cool thing.”
The months before and during graduation are some of the most dangerous for high school students and the busiest time of year for Brooks. Traveling to speaking engagements keeps him on the road most to of time. He also maintains a website and blog, and answers every e-mail. He received 600 in the last 10 days. From time to time it all pays off.
“It’s the second time I’ve seen [Brooks’s presentation] and it’s pretty inspiring,” said Taylor Patten, 16.
“I’ve gone to parties like that before. I’ve seen people drive drunk,” said Ryan King, 17. “It’s pretty touching to see that and it’s hard to look at people [like Brooks] after the fact and see that he’s still so happy. It’s pretty inspiring.”
For other young people, Brooks’s talks often hit home at just the right moment.
“I had a kid two days ago hand me a razor blade and said, ‘I won’t be needing this anymore. I won’t be cutting myself anymore,'” Brooks said. “Guys come up to me – and I know they’re the partyers, I know they’re the crazy guys – and they’re fighting back the tears and they’re like, ‘Never again, man. I’m not driving drunk ever again. I’m not doing it anymore.’ It is endless and they’re sincere. It inspires the heck out of me. It’s my fuel that keeps me going. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”
For more information, please go to www.kevinbrooks.ca.